Gov. J.B. Pritzker is supporting short-term subsidies for two threatened Illinois nuclear plants as part of a wide-ranging overhaul of energy policy his office says would put the state on a path to 100% clean power by 2050.
The proposal represents a balancing act for Pritzker, who is attempting to preserve high-paying union jobs at Exelon’s Byron and Dresden nuclear plants while also seeking accountability from a company whose subsidiary, Commonwealth Edison, has admitted to engaging in bribery in an effort to win support for legislation that included nuclear subsidies in 2016. […]
The governor’s plan draws in elements of a proposal from clean energy advocates that would offer no subsidies to Exelon, and one backed by a union coalition that would offer much more generous and long-lasting support for the four Exelon nuclear plants that aren’t already receiving subsidies from the 2016 law, including two Exelon hasn’t threatened to close.
“Our view is that this proposal pulls together the best of all the proposals that are currently out there into one comprehensive package, and we think it’s a good place to start final negotiations,” [Deputy Gov. Christian Mitchell] said.
With the new legislation, the governor seeks to take some control over a legislative process that has seen separate coalitions propose jarringly different approaches to accomplishing the same goal. A union coalition has put forward legislation that arguably would raise utility bills even more, would provide a higher subsidy to Exelon and would preserve some of ComEd’s formula-rate system. A set of environmental groups, along with the Citizens Utility Board, has pushed the Clean Energy Jobs Act, which would have the state assume oversight of the wholesale power market in northern Illinois with the goal of incentivizing renewable power and disincentivizing fossil fuels. And a coalition of renewable power developers has endorsed legislation, which like Pritzker’s bill, would substantially increase ratepayer charges to finance more projects.
To this point, Springfield has struggled to make choices, with House committees endorsing the various bills on lopsided votes even when they were at cross purposes. […]
The bill includes many provisions aimed at shielding low-income households from those higher costs. Most prominent among them is a call for “tiered” electricity rates, in which those below 80 percent of the median income level for the area would pay less for power than everyone else. Those above that threshold, however, would pay higher rates to make up the difference for the utilities. […]
An unusual reform target in the governor’s bill is the Citizens Utility Board, for decades the most prominent consumer advocate in the state on utility issues. The measure would subject CUB to the Freedom of Information Act and would bar the organization from accepting grants from foundations seeded with utility money. CUB has been accused of being less critical of ComEd, the original source of some of that grant money in the past, than other utilities.
The Consumers and Climate First Act addresses ethics and consumer protections as well as renewable energy and clean power. It also seeks to address how the state plans to help those who lose their jobs as Illinois shifts away from non-renewable energy sources.
Pritzker’s bill would end formula rates, a practice of utility companies being able to “spend ratepayer money with little oversight, meaning ComEd and Ameren, will no longer be able to dramatically increase their profits by loading up the rate base with little cost control,” according to a summary of the bill.
The legislation would also expand the statement of economic interest that legislators must file to include any spouse or immediate family member who is employed by a public utility in Illinois and would make the Citizens Utility Board subject to requests under the Freedom of Information Act and prohibit that board from accepting funds from foundations affiliated with a public utility, according to the bill’s summary. […]
Pritzker’s legislation also seeks to help energy consumers and includes eliminating online payment fees for all utility bills and would eliminate the customer deposit requirement and late fees for low-income residential utility customers. Those with incomes that fall at or below 80% of their area median income would be able to receive tiered discount rates on their utility bills.
The legislation also looks ahead, seeking to put the state on a path toward 100% clean energy by 2050. It also entails a phasing out of coal by 2030 and natural gas by 2045, according to the summary. Along with that push, Pritzker’s legislation aims to increase the adoption of electric vehicles in the state to 1 million by 2030.
State Rep. Ann Williams (D-Chicago), the lead sponsor of the Clean Energy Jobs Act, says ethics reforms for powerful utility companies must be central to whatever lawmakers end up passing, and maintains that only her legislation has stringent enough language to root out corruption stemming from the companies’ relationships with Springfield.
But ComEd this week disagreed with Williams and her allies’ proposals that would include a measure of restitution for ratepayers and an outside monitor. The company’s senior vice president of regulatory and energy policy, Veronica Gomez, told a House panel Tuesday that it was “not appropriate to make a conclusion here that some additional punishment is due” to ComEd beyond the feds’ fine. […]
The union-backed Climate Jobs Illinois also introduced ethics language last week after several news outlets published stories on that issue getting pushed to the back burner. After Pritzker’s office briefed stakeholders on the governor’s plan Wednesday, Climate Jobs Illinois expressed dissatisfaction.
“We’re disappointed that this proposal does not more aggressively advocate for comprehensive labor standards so that new clean energy jobs provide a path to the middle class, especially for communities disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and climate change,” Climate Jobs Illinois Executive Director Joe Duffy said in a statement. “As we review this new language, we’re also concerned that it appears to overlook prioritizing solar on public schools while not doing enough to preserve the nuclear fleet, which is critical to hitting the state’s proposed emissions goals while saving tens of thousands of Illinois jobs.”
Lots more in all of those stories, so click the links. Also, click here for a brief fact sheet from the governor’s office. Subscribers have more details.
*** UPDATE 1 *** Press release…
Delivering on principles laid out last year by Gov. Pritzker and after months of working group meetings including lawmakers, advocates, and industry, the Consumers and Climate First Act was introduced in the General Assembly today by Senator Celina Villanueva and Representative Kam Buckner. The legislation provides a path for Illinois to help lead the nation’s transition to a clean energy economy. The bill serves as a starting point — a series of markers intended to help guide the energy negotiations underway in Springfield. A detailed overview of the legislation is attached.
“As we shape our economic recovery from COVID-19, it’s imperative that we do so with an eye to the future – and Illinoisans deserve a future full of good-paying jobs, clean energy, honest deals, and transparent rates, a future that guarantees clean air, clean water, affordable utilities, and serious consumer protections for all,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “The Consumers and Climate First Act, a product of months’ worth of working groups inclusive of all interests, allows Illinois to fulfill that obligation to our working families. Over the coming weeks, I look forward to working with members of the General Assembly to deliver an ethical framework for Illinois to lead the United States in the clean energy transition in the years to come.”
A culmination of months of energy working group meetings, the Consumers and Climate First Act brings together the best ideas from a diverse range of stakeholders and major energy proposals. It includes dozens of proposals across eight central principles:
Ethics and accountability: Holds utility companies accountable to ratepayers by doing away with formula rates, protecting ratepayer funds from being used for charitable contributions and requiring an annual Exelon audit and immediate ComEd investigation, among other measures.
Consumer protections: Increases affordability for low-income households by bolstering cost-saving programs and eliminating draconian fees and surcharges.
Renewable energy and labor standards: Puts the state on a path toward 100% clean energy by 2050. Doubles the state’s investment in renewable energy and supports union members working on wind and solar projects by requiring project labor agreements in utility-scale wind and solar projects and prevailing wage on large distributed generation and large community solar projects.
Clean power and air: Phases out coal by 2030 and natural gas by 2045 through a carbon price, which will direct revenue to impacted communities, and provides for measured, short-term state support for two nuclear plants.
Transportation electrification: Provides incentives for electric vehicles and statewide charging infrastructure buildout to support the adoption of 1 million EVs by 2030.
Just transition and workforce development: Supports displaced workers and leverages community-based organizations to ensure members of equity focused populations have dedicated and sustained support to enter and complete the career pipeline for clean energy and related sector jobs.
Equity in the clean energy economy: Rewards equitable investments in the renewable energy sector and requires annual diversity reports from utilities and renewable energy developers.
Energy efficiency: Supports decarbonization programs and allows for greater efficiencies in buildings.
“We need to take bold action to combat the climate crisis — and we need to do so equitably and deliver real environmental justice for our communities,” said Sen. Celina Villanueva, Senate sponsor of the legislation. “This set of proposals ushers in a clean energy economy in Illinois, which will create jobs in my district and across the state. It protects consumers, supports workers and holds utility companies accountable. I’m glad that Governor Pritzker has made this a priority of his administration as we get back to work in Springfield. Our planet cannot wait. Our people cannot wait.”
“We are careening towards a fatal cliff and nothing else that we do in the General Assembly will matter if we don’t very seriously get focused on sustainable, clean energy resources like wind, solar, and energy efficiency to combat global climate change,” said Rep. Kam Buckner, Chairperson of the Illinois House Black Caucus and House sponsor of the legislation. “The time to act by passing inclusive climate change and clean energy legislation is now and not a moment later. We have a real opportunity to protect consumers, our planet and create well-paying clean energy jobs for the communities who need it the most. It is important that we intensify commitments to addressing long-standing structural racism. The movements for racial justice and for environmental sustainability are inextricably linked and we have to create policies that mirror this moment. Our economic recovery is also reliant on holding utilities accountable and breaking down barriers that have prevented communities of color from sharing in the benefits of clean energy.”
“I commend the Governor for this comprehensive energy bill that prioritizes affordability while holding utilities accountable to the state and consumers,” said Attorney General Kwame Raoul. “The Governor’s proposal will help lower consumers’ monthly bills by getting rid of costly formula rates and gas surcharges and requiring ComEd and Ameren to return hundreds of millions of excess tax payments back to consumers on a more reasonable schedule. The measure will help vulnerable households stay connected to essential utility services by expanding LIHEAP eligibility and eliminating customer deposits and late fees for low-income consumers. The proposal also dedicates resources to environmental justice communities that have long endured the greatest harms from dirty power plants. I look forward to working with the Governor and the Legislature to craft additional energy policies that balance between affordability and clean energy goals while bolstering a strong and diverse workforce in the energy sector.”
“For the past decade, ComEd, Exelon and other utilities have unduly influenced Illinois energy policy. Today, we applaud Governor Pritzker for taking a stand against this undue influence and putting the interests of consumers and the climate first,” said Illinois PIRG Director Abe Scarr. “It’s time to end automatic rate hikes, gas utility bill surcharges and restore meaningful utility oversight. We call on the Illinois General Assembly to support these vital reforms.”
“Bold times call for bold action. JB Pritzker is the first governor in Illinois history to propose a serious, comprehensive plan to address climate change, put Illinois on a path to 100% clean energy, and eliminate dirty fossil fuels from our power grid,” said the Clean Jobs Coalition. “While our coalition believes further discussion is needed on many specific provisions of Governor Pritzker’s energy bill, it’s clear this proposal and the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA) share many goals, especially on creating equitable jobs in every part of Illinois, holding utilities accountable, and creating a just transition for places where coal companies have said they will cut and run, leaving communities to deal with property tax shortfalls and loss of good paying jobs if we fail to act. We look forward to working with the Governor’s office, legislators, and stakeholders to pass a bill before May 31 that achieves those goals.”
“Governor Pritzker has set out a bold plan for climate action that holds utilities accountable and makes substantial, urgently-needed investments in our clean energy economy,” said J.C. Kibbey, Illinois Clean Energy Advocate, Natural Resources Defense Council. “We look forward to working with the Governor to make Illinois a national leader on climate change.”
“Over the past ten years, 100 percent renewable energy has gone from an aspirational dream to a serious commitment that seven states and over 140 cities have already made. If passed, the Consumers and Climate First Act would make Illinois the eighth state to commit to 100 percent clean or renewable electricity, and would protect Illinois’ climate and environment for future generations,” said Paloma Paez-Coombe, Environment Illinois Associate. “Bold, big picture goals must be paired with practical, short-term stepping stones, and we’re excited that this bill offers both. It’s time to move beyond the outdated and polluting energy sources harming our environment, and set our sights on Illinois’ clean, renewable future.”
“We applaud Governor Pritzker for fully embracing an equitable clean energy future for Illinois,” said Nakhia Crossley, central region director for the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). “While there will be continued negotiations on critical aspects of the legislative language, Governor Pritzker’s commitment to saving consumers money while fully building out Illinois’ renewable energy sector with strong labor and equity standards is historic. We look forward to working with all stakeholders to finalize and pass legislation this session.”
“The road to tackling climate change demands tangible action like electrifying transportation in an accessible, equitable way,” said Anne Smart, Vice President of Public Policy at ChargePoint. “The Consumers and Climate First Act will put Illinois at the forefront of electrifying transportation by helping to deploy more charging stations across the state, protecting consumers and fostering a competitive marketplace. ChargePoint applauds Governor Pritzker for his leadership and we look forward to working with our Illinois stakeholders to cultivate an accessible, consumer-focused electric vehicle network across the state.”
“EVgo applauds Governor Pritzker for his leadership on transportation electrification. By focusing on complementary policies to scale both vehicle sales and charging infrastructure through tools such as rate design, make-ready programs, and rebates, with important attention to environmental justice communities and transportation equity, Illinois will be on a path to decarbonize the transportation sector,” said EVgo CEO Cathy Zoi.
“Today, Black and Brown families in Illinois are disproportionately impacted by disconnections of essential utility service and unaffordable utility rates — a problem that existed even before the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Donna Carpenter, a parent leader with Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI) POWER-PAC IL. “COFI champions the governor’s decision to include important new protections for those who struggle to afford electric, gas and water utility service in his new energy bill that will make a difference in the lives of all Illinoisans who struggle to afford life essentials each month.”
*** UPDATE 2 *** Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition…
Today, the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition released the following statement about the Consumers and Climate First Act:
“Bold times call for bold action. JB Pritzker is the first governor in Illinois history to propose a serious, comprehensive plan to address climate change, put Illinois on a path to 100% clean energy, and eliminate dirty fossil fuels from our power grid.
“While our coalition believes further discussion is needed on many specific provisions of Governor Pritzker’s energy bill, it’s clear this proposal and the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA) share many goals, especially on creating equitable jobs in every part of Illinois, holding utilities accountable, and creating a just transition for places where coal companies have said they will cut and run, leaving communities to deal with property tax shortfalls and loss of good paying jobs if we fail to act.
“We look forward to working with the Governor’s office, legislators, and stakeholders to pass a bill before May 31 that achieves those goals.”
*** UPDATE 3 *** Sierra Club Illinois Director Jack Darin…
“Crisis cannot be averted with half measures, and for the first time in Illinois history Governor Pritzker has put forward a proposal to confront the climate crisis with the ambition it demands by reducing emissions, creating clean energy jobs, and holding utilities accountable. It is refreshing to see state leaders commit to a vision of 100% clean energy that strives to put the needs of Illinoisians over those of corporate utilities.
“The Governor’s proposal shares many goals with the Clean Energy Jobs Act, including a commitment to build enough clean energy to supply all of our power needs by 2050. These bold actions on climate must also include bold commitments to racial and economic justice. As Illinois moves beyond coal and gas, our climate plan must prioritize emission reductions in communities most impacted by polluters and an equitable transition for those left in an economic lurch by fossil fuel companies.
“We are excited to work together with stakeholders and elected leaders to build a policy for Illinois that puts us boldly on a path towards climate justice.”