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A breath of fresh air: Illinois Senate passes clean energy proposal, saves nuclear jobs

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Hastings Clean Energy

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - The Illinois Senate passed a landmark clean energy plan Monday to close private coal plants by 2030 and municipally-owned fossil fuel plants by 2045. This bill also saves thousands of nuclear jobs by giving Exelon nearly $700 million. The Senate voted 37-17 to approve the proposal and help the Byron nuclear plant stay open almost 12 hours after it went offline. In addition, Exelon officials announced they would refuel the Byron and Dresden facilities.

This plan closes private coal plants by 2030, and facilities owned by local government must close by 2045. In addition, the Prairie State Energy Campus in Marissa and Springfield's CWLP must reduce 45% of their carbon emissions by 2035. However, the plants have until 2038 to reach that target or retire one of their generating towers.

Sponsor Mike Hastings (D-Tinley Park) says coal plants are closing across the world regardless of legislation. He also noted that Illinois is doing nothing right now to help those workers or the local economies. Hastings says the Coal to Solar program included in the bill will invest over $300 million in those areas.

"People in those communities that have been impacted by coal plants are gonna get a job. They're gonna get some sort of scholarship to get some increased education," Hastings said. "They're gonna figure out how to work at that plant when we transition them from coal to solar."

Hastings also emphasized the benefits many will receive under the Bill of Rights for displaced energy workers included in the bill. The proposal also calls for a $40 million grant program to help address the social and economic impacts of closing nuclear and fossil fuel plants.

Republicans worry about energy reliability downstate

However, many Republicans worry their districts won't have a reliable energy supply without the coal plants. They argue most downstate communities will suffer if they only get wind and solar energy. Sen. Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet) says they'll have to look elsewhere.

"All those electrons are going to get backfilled from Indiana and Kentucky with carbon. We're going to trade carbon for carbon," said Rose. "Except this time, we get the privilege of paying more for it. We get the privilege of paying more to put up big old transmission lines all over our homes, farms, businesses and pay for that as ratepayers all so you guys can issue press releases that you're getting rid of carbon."

"Huzzah! Huzzah! Look at us. Yeah, we're clean and green," Rose said mockingly to Democrats. "What's gonna come back from Indiana and Kentucky, folks, is carbon."

This bill gives Exelon a $694 million bailout to save the state's nuclear fleet, an essential player in the clean energy environment. In fact, those plants provide over 50% of the electricity in Illinois and nearly 90% of the state's clean energy right now.

"Without this bill, any hope of bringing a carbon-free energy future to Illinois by 2050 will all be but impossible," said Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris).

Saving jobs and moving toward a clean energy economy

Many knew this vote meant much more to the nuclear employees who worried they wouldn't have a job tomorrow.

"To the mom in Rockford who asked, 'Do I have to put my house up for sale?' If this bill passes, the answer to that question is no," said Hastings. "You can keep your job. You're still gonna have a great paying job, your kids are gonna get to go to the same school."

Rezin was one of two Republicans to support the proposal. Three Democrats voted present. Sen. Dave Syverson (R-Rockford), representing the Byron region, said sponsors put his community in a lose-lose situation. The Republican wanted to save the nuclear plant, but he couldn't approve hiking energy bills for residents. Syverson said the state could've addressed the nuclear problem by itself, but that didn't happen.

Senate President Don Harmon disagreed with that assessment.

"This bill is a nation-leading climate bill that focuses on affordable, reliable, and renewable energy. I don't know where the lose is for anyone in the state," said Harmon.

Pritzker: "Science has prevailed"

The Oak Park Democrat said this plan puts Illinois at the forefront of the green energy economy without immediately sacrificing current jobs in the energy sector.

Senate Bill 2408 now heads to Gov. JB Pritzker's desk for final approval. At an unrelated event, the governor told reporters that he plans to sign the plan as soon as possible.

"Illinois is making history by setting aggressive standards for a 100% clean energy future," said Pritzker. "After years of debate and discussion, science has prevailed, and we are charting a new future that works to mitigate the impacts of climate change here in Illinois."

Pritzker also thanked lawmakers for working on a plan that prioritizes equity in all aspects of clean energy. He says the agreed bill puts consumers and climate at the forefront while prioritizing ethics and transparency reforms.

Sponsors say the average household should only see a roughly $4 increase on monthly electric bills. However, AARP Illinois says that could be closer to $15. The Illinois Manufacturers' Association and Illinois Chamber of Commerce argue this could lead to the largest electric rate hike in Illinois history.

Advocacy groups celebrate victory after years of hard work

The Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition representing environmental groups across the state celebrated the bill's passing.

"We are on the verge of history in Illinois, poised to take significant steps to address our climate crisis, create equitable, good-paying jobs across the state particularly in Black and Brown communities, and enact tough utility accountability measures," they stated.

Labor leaders from across Illinois also thanked legislative leaders and negotiators for getting the plan across the finish line. The Climate Jobs Illinois Coalition said this proved the state didn't have to decide between jobs and a clean future.

"We will build the clean energy economy of the future—powered by union jobs—to reverse generations of carbon emissions and build a pathway to the middle class for new generations of highly trained workers from historically disinvested communities. We will justly transition from fossil fuels and raise the bar on transparency and accountability for utilities and energy developers in the greater interest of ratepayers and consumers," said SJI Executive Director Joe Duffy.

Both organizations noted the urgent need for action to address the climate and energy jobs. They highlighted new opportunities for Black and brown communities to engage in the energy industry. In addition, this proposal requires all employers in the energy sector to meet new diversity hiring standards. Finally, nearly all new clean energy projects will need contract labor agreements to get union works on the job.

Equity, jobs, and clean energy

"I am proud to have sponsored the most forward-thinking energy legislation this country has seen," said Sen. Cristina Castro (D-Elgin). "Historically, Black and brown communities have been disproportionately impacted by climate change and other environmental and health harms that come with burning fossil fuels. By giving these voices a chance to lead the transition to clean energy, we prioritize equity, providing job resources and training for communities that have historically been left out of the process."

Sponsors also hope Illinois can reach a goal of 1,000,000 electric vehicles by 2030. With more electric vehicle companies taking root in the Land of Lincoln, this provision looks promising. The proposal creates $4,000 rebates for anyone purchasing the cleaner vehicles starting next year. Although, Republicans quickly pointed out that the offer is only available for Chicago and the collar counties. Some tried to describe it as a rip-off to downstate drivers who may want electric vehicles.

However, Hastings repeatedly explained that the rebate is only available in counties covered under the Alternative Fuels Act. He suggested Republicans could introduce proposals to have their counties included under the plan as well.

The legislation 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. That could significantly help portions of Central and Southern Illinois that currently lack charging stations. President Joe Biden hopes to expand charging stations across the country under the infrastructure bill in Washington.

"We need to embrace bold measures that are based in science and uplift all of us," said Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton. "Senate Bill 2408 is an essential tool in our fight for justice, equity, and opportunity in what should be a much healthier, greener future."

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Mike Miletich

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