Jobs, reliability and bailouts chief concerns amid possible Illinois energy legislation

(The Center Square) – Some at the Illinois statehouse are eying a bailout of the nuclear industry with a goal to shut down coal-generated power. Critics say that would be devastating and unfair.

Legislation to achieve the governor’s goal of 100% green energy by 2050 is still elusive, but those employed by the coal industry say they’re needed for reliability and for their area’s economy.

Lawmakers haven’t moved on any measure impacting the state’s energy industry, but discussions continue behind closed doors. One aspect that’s been talked about openly is a move to shutter coal-fired power plants by 2035.

For Ryan Peters, a mechanical maintenance lead for Prairie State Generating Company in Marissa, if his job goes by the wayside, he’d likely have to get a job in neighboring Missouri.

“You’d probably have to leave Illinois,” Peters said. “You’d probably definitely be working on the Missouri side. If you were able to live in Illinois, you’d still be working on the Missouri side to get the same compensation.”

Prairie State also has a coal mine on-site where Matt Hamilton, a cart operator, said his job is the best around. His message for the governor is to keep reliable coal going.

“Around this area, ain’t nothing around unless you travel to St. Louis or something like that,” Hamilton said. “A lot of people come here because it’s a good job and good benefits and good insurance and so we just need to keep it going.”

It’s unclear when lawmakers would come back to Springfield to take up any energy legislation. That legislation could also include ratepayer subsidies in excess of $700 million for the nuclear energy industry.

Prairie State Generating Company Vice President of External Affairs Alyssa Harre said the coal-fired plant is reliable and an economic necessity in the area. She said a bailout for nuclear power while trying to shut coal plants wouldn’t be fair.

“In the same way that they want to maintain the jobs at the nuclear plants, we want to be able to maintain the jobs at this facility too,” Harre said.

But some say Exelon doesn’t need a bailout.

Attorney Adam Levitt, one of the lawyers in a class-action lawsuit against ComEd over its admitted bribery scheme, reviewed profits from parent company Exelon and claims the company has made $1.7 billion a year on nuclear power. He said the company threatening to shut down nuclear power if it doesn’t get a bailout is “crying poverty without facts.”

“ComEd once again is trying to use the Illinois Legislature as its piggy bank, essentially, on the back of Illinois ratepayers,” Levitt said. “They’re trying to extort huge amounts of money.”

Illinois lawmakers previously approved a bailout of Com-Ed nuclear plants in 2016.

Messages seeking comment from Exelon weren’t immediately returned.

Submit a Comment