Lawmakers, Gov. JB Pritzker negotiate
Tuesday’s accidental release of a coal-ash dust cloud at City Water, Light & Power’s Dallman Power Station in Springfield happened about nine hours before the Illinois Senate passed a clean-energy bill that would close the coal-fired plant by 2045.
Elizabeth Scrafford, a spokeswoman for The Sierra Club, said the release was “just another reminder of why we need to move beyond coal as soon as possible.”
But a key negotiator on the energy legislation in the House, which could return to Springfield within days to consider the Senate’s bill after a one-day special session Tuesday, said the incident doesn’t add any more urgency to the importance of phasing out fossil fuel-fired electric generating plants.
“We know the reality of the plants,” state Rep. Marcus Evans Jr., D-Chicago, told The State Journal-Register. “We know the risks. The question is, ‘What can we do?’ We’ve got to do something while delivering good jobs and power reliability.”
The Senate vote on Senate Bill 18 came shortly before 1 a.m. Wednesday and after two years of negotiations between environmental groups, labor unions, public and private utility companies, the General Assembly and Gov. JB Pritzker.
The bill passed on a 39-16 vote. The only Republicans voting in favor were Sens. John Curran of Downers Grove and Sue Rezin of Morris.
Sen. Doris Turner, D-Springfield, was one of only two Democrats voting “no.” Turner didn’t return a phone call seeking comment.
Sen. Michael Hastings, D-Frankfort, the lead negotiator on the legislation for Senate Democrats, called the measure “nation-leading” and “the most equitable, diverse and inclusive clean-energy bill in the entire country.”
The bill would establish a goal of 2040 for 50% of Illinois’ electricity to come from “renewable” energy, and 2050 for 100% “clean” energy, Hastings said, and there would be numerous financial incentives for the expansion of wind and solar production and energy storage.
But the first vote on a clean-energy legislation by either chamber of the General Assembly doesn’t mean the Illinois House or Pritzker, a Democrat, won’t demand changes to the bill.
In addition to closing the CWLP plant and the coal-fired Prairie State Energy Campus in Washington County east of St. Louis by 2045, the bill would pave the way for proposed electric rate increases in the northern Illinois areas served by Commonwealth Edison.
The bill would provide almost $700 million in financial support for Exelon’s Byron, Dresden, Braidwood and LaSalle County nuclear power plants and preserve 2,000 direct jobs at the plants and thousands of indirect jobs.
ComEd has threatened to close the Byron and Dresden plants this summer if an energy bill doesn’t become law.
Evans said whether coal-fired plans will have to reduce their carbon-dioxide emissions before 2045 remains a “sticking point” in the bill. The bill passed by the Senate doesn’t require carbon emission reductions for those plants prior to closure.
Evans said he remains optimistic the House can return to Springfield this month to approve an energy bill, though the House version likely will be slightly different from the one passed by the Senate. That would mean the Senate would have to concur with any changes.
“I think we’re almost there,” Evans said.
Many House Democrats also want to make sure there would be reliable sources of energy throughout the state if electricity produced by natural gas- and coal-fired plants in Illinois are phased out, Evans said.
CWLP, which serves the Springfield area, and Prairie State, which serves many municipalities in throughout downstate and the Chicago area, haven’t commented on the Senate vote.
In the past, CWLP and Prairie State have opposed any firm closure dates for their operations and say they are working on carbon-capture technology to drastically reduce carbon emissions over the next few decades.
Premature closures would put thousands of plant employees and union tradesmen and tradeswomen out of work, CWLP and Prairie State officials have said.
The bill includes funding for retraining programs for displaced workers and academic scholarships for the children of displaced workers, Hastings said.
Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said the bill would put many downstate communities in the position of having no in-state nuclear or fossil fuel energy plants to depend on.
As a result, carbon-dioxide-emitting electrical producers from Indiana and Kentucky would serve those Illinois communities, or the region could face “brownouts,” Rose said.
Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, said SB 18 is an “excellent bill. … If the governor and the House are able to make it even better, godspeed.”
Harmon said some environmental groups want firm deadlines for fossil fuel plant closures and progressive carbon emission reductions from those plants leading up to closure.
Harmon said he doesn’t know whether the technology required for the emission reductions would be “economically feasible” for the plants because the plants would have a limited time period to recover the technology costs through revenue from ratepayers.
Getting the Senate to agree with such a provision would be a “tall order,” he told reporters after the vote.
Harmon said House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, “is very eager to get this done and believes that we can get it done in a matter of days. He’s a full-fledged partner, and I agree with his assessment.”
Jordan Abudayyeh, press secretary for Pritzker, who has made increasing the state’s conversion to “clean” energy one of his top priorities, said in a statement early Wednesday: “The governor’s office looks forward to working with members of the House to finalize an energy package that puts consumers and climate first.
“The governor’s office is in discussions with stakeholders to ensure that Prairie State and CWLP’s closure in 2045 includes real interim emissions reductions consistent with previous bill drafts, and is committed to working with the General Assembly to address some drafting errors in the Senate bill that the governor raised during talks today because they could have unintended legal consequences.”
The Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition said it was encouraged by Wednesday’s progress “and believe setting a specific timeline for decarbonization is a significant step forward.”
The Illinois Chamber of Commerce said in a statement that it was concerned about “a second, enormous subsidy for Exelon, not even five years after the last enormous subsidy,” and “the premature closure of coal and natural (gas)-fired electricity generating plants.”