SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - The Illinois House passed a landmark clean energy proposal on an 83-33 vote late Thursday night. This plan takes significant steps to decarbonize the state's energy sector. Sponsors hope it will bring Illinois to a 100% clean energy economy by 2050.
The new energy proposal was the latest of many ideas presented by lawmakers over the past few years. Labor, environmental groups, and the Pritzker administration reached a compromise for this plan. Everyone knew they needed to pass a plan quickly with Exelon plants on the verge of closing. Illinois could also lose significant funding for solar projects without action.
However, this plan must now pass out of the Senate quickly. Senate President Don Harmon committed to bringing his chamber back to Springfield to vote on the measure Monday.
This plan gives Exelon a $694 million bailout to keep the nuclear fleet running for another five years. Union groups in the negotiations were happy to see that portion of the plan stay in every proposal over the last few months. They also noted sponsors guaranteed renewable energy construction projects will have labor agreements to hire union workers.
Pritzker thanked House leaders and the many organizations that came to the table to work on the energy bill. He calls the bill a historic step closer to the 100% clean energy future.
"For many years, comprehensive energy legislation that puts consumers and the climate first has been debated while scientists around the world have sounded the alarm about the growing impacts of climate change. SB 2408 puts the state on a path toward 100% clean energy and invests in training a diverse workforce for the jobs of the future," said Pritzker.
Senate Bill 2408 closes private coal plants by 2030, and plants owned by municipalities must close by 2045. The Prairie State Energy Campus in the Metro East and Springfield's CWLP coal plants must also reduce 45% of the carbon emissions by 2035. If they cannot achieve that, the plants have until 2038 to reach the target, or they must retire one of their generating towers. Even so, both plants still face a hard close date by 2045.
Rep. Tim Butler (R-Springfield) stressed Central and Southern Illinois would need to bring in coal power from Indiana and Kentucky to meet the energy demand.
"You're not doing what you think you're doing with this bill," said Butler. "You're putting people out of work, you're raising rates for my constituents. And you're shutting things down that shouldn't be shut down."
Several Republicans joined Democrats in support of the plan to save nuclear jobs in their districts. However, they were disappointed by what they called a lack of bipartisan discussions for the plan.
"I was told by many of my colleagues, 'We want this to be bipartisan, David. Energy has been bipartisan.' I voted for the 2016 FEJA [Future Energy Jobs Act]. A lot of my colleagues did," said Rep. David Welter (R-Morris). "There was a process in place where we were respected. That did not happen here."
Rep. Tom Demmer (R-Dixon) also noted the bill was far from perfect. However, he needed to vote in support of saving jobs and the economy in his district.
"There are several aspects I would have voted No on had they been separated into a standalone bill," said Demmer. "Given what was at stake for Byron families and our region, however, I chose to support this bill for our regional economy and for Illinois' energy future."
Bipartisan support shown in the votes
Lead Democratic negotiators took issue with that argument. Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Swansea) said they brought Republicans in for all energy negotiations before lawmakers left Springfield. However, he explained he constantly spoke with Republicans on the phone to keep them informed.
"Maybe not as much as everyone would like," Hoffman admitted. "But, ultimately, it's reflected in the votes. The votes is where there was a significant amount of bipartisan support which I think is really reflective of the work that everybody did collaboratively in a bipartisan fashion."
House Speaker Emanuel "Chris" Welch noted also noted that importance during his floor speech. The Hillside Democrat said members should put politics aside during the energy vote.
"We're helping people all across this state. That's why we're here tonight," said Welch.
He also thanked Pritzker and Senate President Don Harmon for their work on the lengthy energy negotiations. Welch says the bill can save jobs, address climate, and hold the energy industry accountable with higher ethical standards.
"It makes significant investments in the development of renewable energy. It protects jobs and people in your communities," stressed Welch. "This bill is the right thing to do."
Addressing Republican concerns
The proposal calls for a $40 million grant program to help address the social and economic impacts of closing nuclear and fossil fuel plants. This bill also included the Bill of Rights for displaced fossil fuel plant workers. Sponsors also touted new incentives for solar generation and energy storage units at closed coal plants.
Still, many downstate Republicans who rely on the MISO grid feel this legislation will only lead to hardship for their constituents. Several members noted private energy companies would have the authority for eminent domain to build transmission lines across downstate counties. They argued it would disrupt farmland and cause more people to leave the state.
"All of this is on top of a rate increase, and since we can't meet power capacity needs without our coal-fired plants, we'll be buying coal-fired energy from neighboring states," said Rep. Mike Murphy (R-Springfield). "We are rushing to completely alter our energy production at the expense of countless jobs and reliable energy for the sake of special interest and it's terrible."
Prairie State's legacy
Rep. Charlie Meier (R-Okawville) accused Democratic sponsors of taking ideas from environmental groups and running with them without proper research. Meier proudly represents the Prairie State Energy Campus in Marissa, Illinois. Many clean energy advocates and lawmakers constantly bring up that Prairie State is the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions in Illinois.
Rep. Marcus Evans (D-Chicago) told Meier nearly all coal plants across the world are phasing out. Meier admitted he knew that but kept fighting to save local jobs and power for the region.
"Why do you think the owners of Prairie State own more clean energy than the clean energy people do in the state? We realize that," said Meier. "We had an agreement with the Obama administration, with then-Vice President Biden, and with the Blagojevich administration so the Illinois citizens could have a reliable source of energy and know where it was coming from until 2045. They're bonded for it. These citizens have to pay for it."
Ethics and electric vehicles
The Illinois Chamber of Commerce, Illinois Manufacturers' Association, and AARP Illinois still oppose the proposal. Each organization argues this plan will be the largest electric rate hike in Illinois history. AARP previously told lawmakers and reporters that the bill could raise electric bills for single-family homes by $15 per month. They also feel this ended up being another easy bailout for Commonwealth Edison.
Although, the measure creates an ethics and compliance monitor for public utilities to ensure the companies meet the highest ethical standards. It also requires the Illinois Commerce Commission to investigate whether customers should receive refunds following ComEd's involvement in a years-long Springfield bribery scheme. Under the bill, lawmakers must also document if their spouse or other family members work for a public utility company.
Sponsors also hope Illinois can reach a goal of 1,000,000 electric vehicles by 2030. This proposal could create a $4,000 rebate for anyone purchasing the cleaner vehicles. It also requires utility companies to file plans with the Commerce Commission to support the rapid deployment of electric vehicles and proper infrastructure across the state.
"The shared goal among the Senate, House and Governor Pritzker has been to position Illinois as a national leader on reliable, renewable, and affordable energy policies. This proposal accomplishes that shared goal," said Harmon. "I commend the work the House has done to build on the progress the Senate had made."
Senate Democrats plan to discuss the energy plan during a caucus meeting Friday. Members of both parties in the Senate seem optimistic for approval on Monday. The Exelon plant in Byron still faces closure next week without the Senate's approval of the bill.