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Clean energy at a high cost: Business, labor leaders worry about Pritzker’s plan

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7.1 ENERGY PIC

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Business and organized labor groups argue the clean energy plan in Springfield could create a hefty rate hike for customers. They also feel the Pritzker administration's proposal will have companies with good-paying jobs moving to neighboring states.

Industry leaders say Illinois has long taken pride in having low-cost energy prices and a reliable electric grid. That's why they don't understand why lawmakers would want to pass such an expensive clean energy plan.

The Illinois Manufacturers' Association and several other groups want the state to move towards a clean energy economy. However, they feel lawmakers are trying to move too fast and say the process isn't transparent.

Industry leaders want lawmakers and the administration to rethink their plan and consider how much it will cost to implement. They currently project the proposal could cost families, businesses, and organizations a minimum of $700 million annually. That's separate from an estimated $215 million for new clean energy programs included in the plan.

"Those are things that should be shown and transparent in open discussion so everybody knows, so hopefully we could coalesce around something. We may not win on every point," said IMA President and CEO Mark Denzler. "But, we should at least have those open and honest discussions."

Putting business and labor at a disadvantage?

Denzler says a major cost shift could impact commercial and industrial ratepayers. He claimed the administration told working groups retail businesses would pay an extra $12 per month. Denzler also noted industrial companies could pay over $1,900 monthly.

"Despite repeated requests, the governor's office has failed to provide rate cost estimates, studies on reliability, or the impact on job loss from companies who will be asked to pay significantly higher electric bills," Denzler said.

Some feel this drastic change will block companies from growing and having competitive prices. Jeff Dorries, the Chief Financial Officer for Alton Steel, says his company would lose at least half a million dollars each year.

"We're a small steel mill compared to folks like Nucor and U.S. Steel and those kind of guys. So, we follow them in terms of pricing," Dorries explained. "But we'd be, one would assume, at a disadvantage versus where we are today."

Labor leaders also worry lawmakers leading the fight for clean energy aren't thinking about those working in the nuclear and coal industries. The Illinois Pipe Trades Association has seen very little assurance that there would be an orderly transition for workers.

Environmental groups want to completely phase out coal by 2035 and natural gas by 2045. But, working groups are hearing about carbon capture requirements that could kick in five years after the plan becomes law. Rick Terven, Political Director for the Pipe Trades Association, says that could close plants and reduce overall emissions every five years.

"How can you say that you have until 2045 when it could be 2026," asked Terven. "I mean, that doesn't give a lot of assurances to our members."

Administration: Plan must address climate change, protect consumers

Still, the Pritzker administration says bipartisan working groups have met dozens of times over the last year. Press Secretary Jordan Abudayyeh also explained stakeholders were at the table to negotiate various parts of the current energy bill draft.

"The governor has been clear that any energy legislation must address climate change by making meaningful progress toward moving Illinois to a renewable energy future while also protecting consumers, particularly low income consumers," Abudayyeh stated.

The governor's office also noted Site Selection magazine named Illinois the most sustainable state in the country on Thursday.

"This distinction is an important selling point to potential businesses looking to put roots down in a state that demonstrates its commitment to the environment and provides them opportunities to contribute to a clean energy future," Abudayyeh added.

Lawmakers still haven't filed language for the energy proposal. So it's unknown when lawmakers will return to vote on the plan.

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Mike Miletich

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