Illinois passes sweeping energy bill with support for Exelon nuclear plants

Dive Brief:

  • Both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly late on Thursday voted in favor of a massive energy bill that includes financial supports for two Exelon nuclear plants at risk of closing.

  • The legislation, which has been called one of the most comprehensive state energy bills ever crafted, heads to the governor’s office where it will likely be signed into law.

  • The final version of the bill included last minute changes sought by the governor, such as dropping prevailing wage language from a job creation provision.

  • In addition to providing payments to the nuclear plants for 10 years, the bill also expands the state’s energy efficiency programs and makes changes to the state’s renewable portfolio standard sought by renewable advocates.

Dive Insight:

The odyssey of what eventually became the Future Energy Jobs Bill, SB 2814, started about two years ago and has had many twists and turns.

The version just passed by the House and Senate was introduced into the General Assembly’s shortened veto session in mid-November. The 440-plus page bill went through about 30 rounds of changes before being approved late on the last day of the session.

In the House, the legislation required 60 votes and passed 63-38. In the Senate, the vote was 32-18 in favor. Both votes included members of both parties, though more Democrats supported the legislation.

Shortly before the final vote, language was added to the bill that limits the cost impact of the legislation on all business classes at 1.3% compared with 2015 rates. For residential customers of Commonwealth Edison, the Exelon utility subsidiary serving Chicago, costs from the bill are capped at 25 cents per month for an average consumer.

“I had two goals when I originally proposed this comprehensive energy program: protect and create jobs, and make our energy network stronger and cleaner," Rep. Bob Rita (D), the bill’s sponsor, said in a statement. "I realized after the hours of testimony in the original committee hearing that we had more work to do, and I commend all of those involved in sitting down to find that middle ground."

Among the last minute changes to the bill was the elimination of fixed resource adequacy plan (FRAP) that would have provided capacity payments for coal plants in the south of the state, as well as deletion of provisions for residential demand charges and the elimination of retail rate net metering.

Language allowing ComEd to construct five microgrid projects around Chicago was also removed. 

The last minute changes were crucial to gaining the support of environmental advocates such as the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund.

“We are encouraged to see SB 2814 pass without anti-consumer, anti-solar proposals like mandatory demand charges, and ending net metering,” Amy Heart, director of public policy for Sunrun and spokesperson for The Alliance for Solar Choice, said in a statement.

Chris Crane, president and CEO of Exelon, praised the final version of the bill as well.

"This forward-looking energy policy levels the playing field and values all carbon-free energy equally, positions Illinois as a national leader in advancing clean energy, and will provide a major boost to the Illinois economy,” he said in a statement.

But the changes to the bill did not win over all stakeholders. In a Senate hearing on Thursday, David Lundy, executive director the BEST Coalition, continued to voice his strong opposition to the legislation, saying that cost savings provided by proponents of the bill use an “artificially high base” to make their results look favorable.

Mark Biel, executive director of the Chemical Industry Council of Illinois, told the hearing that the bill would “turn back the clock” on Illinois’ decades-old power sector deregulation that he said has brought a 13% decline in power costs and made Illinois a desirable location for industry.

Passage of the bill would mean, “we are on a downward path, and everyone else is on an upward path,” he said. 

If Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) signs the bill, it would take effect June 1, 2017.

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Filed Under: Generation Transmission & Distribution Solar & Renewables Energy Storage Distributed Energy Efficiency & Demand Response Regulation & Policy
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