Bill to keep Exelon plants open awaits Rauner’s signature

A controversial bill that would guarantee another decade of operation for two Illinois nuclear power plants awaits Gov. Bruce Rauner’s signature.

The Future Energy Jobs Bill passed Thursday night raises utility rates to help pay for the modernization of both the Clinton Nuclear Generating Station and the Quad Cities Nuclear Generating Station in Cordova. The additional income amounts to $235 million annually for ten years. It also gives 10 years of green-energy tax credits to the help modernize the plants that directly and indirectly employ thousands.

The bill, at more than 500 pages, also updates the state’s green jobs portfolio, allowing the power plants to get zero-emission tax credits for ten years, helping them modernize. ComEd, in turn for rate increases, will invest $30 million in job programs in low income areas and hundreds of millions of dollars in utility assistance to the elderly and disabled and energy efficiency programs.

The bill also provides rate increase protections; annually capped at 25 cents on the average residential home, and cannot increase more than 1.3 percent on commercial and industrial users over the next decade.

State Rep. Mike Tryon, R-Crystal Lake, warned that closure of the two plants would end up in higher electrical rates. “You can’t remove 12 percent from the energy platform and not expect to see an increase in energy rates,” he told an unusually quiet and attentive House chamber.

The bill passed in the House with only three votes to spare. In the Senate, Donne Trotter, D-Chicago, said the new green energy regulations will not only maintain high-paying jobs, but create new ones in low-income areas. “There are protections for everyone in here and there are opportunities for many of us in here,” he said.

While most of the dissent centered around labeling the bill a bailout, some of the most impassioned opposition came from lawmakers wanting to stick to state business, like passing a budget.

State Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield, said there are too many other needs to be addressed to be spending the last day of veto session debating laws that help a profitable company. “Think hard about what we did in the last three days, but think harder about what we didn’t do in the last three days,” he said.

Downstate Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Benton, said lawmakers shouldn’t manipulate the market with legislation. “We have a free-market power generation system that has worked and will work if we allow it to continue to work,” he said. “Let’s not pick winners and losers.”

In a release, Exelon, which owns the nuclear plants in danger of closure, commended lawmakers on passing responsible legislation that will create and preserve tens of thousands of jobs. “The groundbreaking bill will help secure competitive electric rates for Illinois homes and businesses, preserve and create good-paying jobs and spur billions of dollars in investment in clean energy and energy efficiency across the state.”

Exelon said that without the legislation, both nuclear plants would have closed within two years.

Gov. Bruce Rauner thanked lawmakers for their diligence on a very comprehensive bill. “It protects ratepayers, through guaranteed caps, from large rate increases in years to come. It also ensures taxpayers are not on the hook to keep the power plants open and online. We thank the rank-and-file legislators and stakeholders for their perseverance and commitment to seeing this through. This process shows that when all parties are willing to negotiate in good faith, we can find agreement and move our state forward,” he said in a release.

One amendment changed the effective date of the bill to July 1, 2017, which lowered the required number of votes for passage to a simple majority.

–Illinois News Network

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