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The energy bill fiasco

Tuesday, Jun 1, 2021 - Posted by Rich Miller


As Monday dragged on, the most dramatic feature was the fate of the Exelon bailout, which sought to extend a lease on life for the company’s financially struggling nuclear plants at Dresden, Braidwood and Byron as part of a broader green-energy push by the Pritzker administration. Exelon announced last August it would close Dresden and Byron without relief from Springfield.

Pritzker’s office and Exelon appeared to have settled on the broad framework of more than $600 million in ratepayer subsidies over five years, multiple sources confirmed to WBEZ. But a deal hit an 11th hour snag involving the future of a southern Illinois coal-burning plant.

Talks surrounding the nuclear package unfolded under the heavy cloud of an ongoing federal probe into Exelon’s subsidiary, ComEd. Last week, as part of that investigation, federal prosecutors announced perjury and obstruction of justice charges against Madigan’s one-time chief of staff, Tim Mapes.

* From last night…


* Tribune

An 11th-hour disagreement over whether to exempt the Prairie State Generating Station in southern Illinois and city-owned power plant in Springfield should be exempted from deadlines for shutting down coal-fired power plants had the potential to derail the deal.

Supporters were pushing the exemption because of outstanding bond debt on the facilities, but the governor’s office said Pritzker would not sign a bill that gives them special treatment.

* Greg Hinz

But speculation centers on the role of Harmon’s chief of staff, Jake Butcher, who before he went to work for Harmon was a lobbyist for Prairie State Energy, which runs a “clean coal” generation plant and reportedly wants to be exempted from provisions of a deal that otherwise has the backing of both Pritzker and Harmon.

* Politico

The energy bill appeared to be close. After reaching a compromise about how much to give Exelon to operate nuclear plants, there’s now a disagreement on coal plants. Senate President Don Harmon and his top aide, Jacob Butcher, a former coal lobbyist, want to exempt the Prairie State Energy coal plant from decarbonization rules that are in the bill.

…Adding… Prairie State…

“Coming online in 2012 during the Obama-Biden Administration, Prairie State is uniquely positioned to act as a bridge to support Illinois’ transition to a greater reliance on renewable energy. Our power plant was purpose-built with more than $1 billion in best available control technologies and we operate under very stringent environmental standards. Prairie State is vital to maintaining grid reliability, energy affordability, and economic prosperity as Illinois works to close the gap between today’s technologies and long-term carbon reduction goals. Prairie State is committed to partnering with policy leaders to further mitigate CO2 emissions in the future, including a partnership with the University of Illinois and U.S. Department of Energy to conduct a carbon capture study with the objective of identifying CO2 emission mitigation opportunities at a commercial scale,” said Alyssa Harre, Director of External Affairs and Organizational Strategy for Prairie State. “Prematurely shuttering Prairie State in 2035 would place new financial burdens on communities who own the plant by essentially forcing them to pay for two sources of power: the energy already owned through their partnerships with Prairie State Energy Campus, and replacement power to cover that loss. That is an additional cost our not-for-profit member communities and their ratepayers cannot afford.”


  1. - Hmm - Tuesday, Jun 1, 21 @ 12:49 pm:

    I wouldn’t think a chief of staff wants their name in the papers. Or internets.

  2. - PublicServant - Tuesday, Jun 1, 21 @ 12:51 pm:

    Maybe someone, like maybe a reporter, ought to ask Harmon/Butcher about Prairie State and their position on it…

  3. - lost - Tuesday, Jun 1, 21 @ 12:52 pm:

    I generally understand Harmon’s strategy and support his efforts. Must say I’m completely lost now.

  4. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Jun 1, 21 @ 12:56 pm:

    ===Senate President Don Harmon and his top aide, Jacob Butcher, a former coal lobbyist, want to exempt the Prairie State Energy coal plant from decarbonization rules that are in the bill.===

    Welp. That’s “a thing” I guess.

    Hold up the caucus and the chamber to make a CoS and former lobbyist happy… or is that just bad optics… to an actual reality?

  5. - Senator Clay Davis - Tuesday, Jun 1, 21 @ 12:59 pm:

    Some of the criticism of Harmon has been unfair. The guy didn’t spend his career fighting for renewable energy only to get co-opted by coal at this point.. The issues with Prairie State are complicated, and shuttering that plant by 2035 will bankrupt a bunch of municipalities in Illinois, not to mention lead to the state getting sued by municipalities in other states. Harmon was being responsive to members of his caucus that are concerned about those towns.

  6. - Mindy - Tuesday, Jun 1, 21 @ 12:59 pm:

    What’s the Bill Number on that Energy Bill?

  7. - NIU Grad - Tuesday, Jun 1, 21 @ 1:00 pm:

    If this is really about another Harmon/Pritzker feud (I really hope not…), Harmon isn’t helping things with this CoS issue. Having a lobbyist CoS is one thing…demanding that they be in every energy negotiation meeting while supporting the position of their former client…this gives the Governor plenty of room for a veto (which might end up helping him after the ComEd scandal).

  8. - Downstate Illinois - Tuesday, Jun 1, 21 @ 1:01 pm:

    I guess destroying 500,000 jobs last year wasn’t enough for JB. We need cheap reliable energy. That’s not green and nuclear ain’t cheap.

  9. - King Louis XVI - Tuesday, Jun 1, 21 @ 1:06 pm:

    –speculation centers on the role of Harmon’s chief of staff, Jake Butcher, who before he went to work for Harmon was a lobbyist for Prairie State Energy, which runs a “clean coal” generation plant and reportedly wants to be exempted from provisions of a deal…–

    Even Madigan knew enough not to put McClain on the state payroll after he ‘retired’ from lobbying. It was only a matter of time before Butcher’s lobbyist past would bite Harmon.

  10. - Senator Clay Davis - Tuesday, Jun 1, 21 @ 1:07 pm:

    Some of the criticism of Harmon has been unfair. The guy didn’t spend his career fighting for renewables only to get co-opted by coal at this stage. The issues with Prairie State are complex, and if we don’t solve them adequately, municipalities in Illinois that have contracts with the plant could face bankruptcy, not to mention Illinois could face lawsuits from towns in other states that also have contracts with that boondoggle. Understandably, there are SDems that care about these issues.

    Media should learn more about these nuances before jumping to a simplistic “corrupted by coal” trope.

  11. - Candy Dogood - Tuesday, Jun 1, 21 @ 1:11 pm:

    The Prairie State Energy Campus was commissioned in 2012. 9 years ago the writing was on the wall regarding both climate change and the future of coal. Peabody Coal and other rent seekers convinced a bunch of municipalities to go in on a coal fired power plant in 2012 at some point in time it is important to understand that people who decided it was a good idea to build new coal power plants in 2012 need to take a haircut in order to address climate change.

    They took a risk.

    ===Downstate Illinois - Tuesday, Jun 1, 21 @ 1:01 pm:===

    You’re making Downstate Illinois look bad by towing lines like that.

  12. - Anon221 - Tuesday, Jun 1, 21 @ 1:12 pm:

    Backgrounder on Prairie State Coal-

  13. - Just Saying - Tuesday, Jun 1, 21 @ 1:12 pm:

    That list of legislators is not great.

  14. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Jun 1, 21 @ 1:16 pm:

    ===Media should learn more about these nuances before jumping to a simplistic “corrupted by coal” trope.===

    The nuance is the CoS has a more than passing connection with the entity.

    The nuance too is that the entity and it’s exposure is at play.

    The optics allows the questions. Pretty straightforward

  15. - Ok - Tuesday, Jun 1, 21 @ 1:22 pm:

    “Not-for-profit member communities”

    So, you suckered a bunch of “not-for-profit” communities to finance your for-profit boondoggle, and now you hide behind them like human shields.

    Monorail…. monorail… monorail…

  16. - Cheryl44 - Tuesday, Jun 1, 21 @ 1:25 pm:

    There’s no such thing as clean coal,not even in a metaphorical sense.

  17. - Avengers - Tuesday, Jun 1, 21 @ 1:34 pm:

    Obviously there’s blame to go around but Pritzker could ask IL EPA to look at tightening the many permits a coal plant needs to operate in Illinois. Backdoor way to shut it down. Removes the middle school drama that occurs in the Illinois General Assembly. The cities that got suckered in to owning this plant are completely screwed no matter what happens.

  18. - Blue Dog - Tuesday, Jun 1, 21 @ 1:38 pm:

    Regarding Prarie State. If shuttered, what electric production facility will be around when the renewables aren’t producing electric?

  19. - Cringey McUncomfortable - Tuesday, Jun 1, 21 @ 1:44 pm:

    I do believe that a lot more needs to be done to reduce the use of fossil fuels. I admit that I don’t dislike the idea of a longer wind-down for the municipal plants, though. I worry that many locals will panic and privatize their systems rather than invest in converting to more sustainable sources, which will end up putting more Illinoisans at the mercy of profit-seeking companies with regional monopolies. I think it’s still the case that municipal utilities tend to provide more reliable service at lower prices, so I hope we can find a way to balance these interests (e.g., if some of the capital projects they approved last night went to help municipalities make climate-friendly improvements).

  20. - truthteller - Tuesday, Jun 1, 21 @ 1:58 pm:

    so how much in profit, dividends, corporate bonuses and stock options did ConEd, Exelon have? Lat time I looked, they have never lost money, stopped dividends or bonuses. Seems disingenuous to say “finally struggling”

  21. - Going nuclear - Tuesday, Jun 1, 21 @ 2:00 pm:

    Unfortunately the municipal utilities and electric cooperatives have been dragging their feet in the transition to a lower carbon future. There should be hard deadlines for both Springfield’s Dallman 4 and Prairie State Energy to close down. Hope Pritzker and the legislators can reach a compromise.

  22. - Friendly Bob Adams - Tuesday, Jun 1, 21 @ 2:00 pm:

    So the ethics focus is on limiting government officials from becoming lobbyists… shouldn’t there also be some limitation on lobbyists taking high-profile jobs in the government?

    Chief of staff to the president of the Senate is pretty high-profile in my opinion. What was Harmon thinking?

  23. - Dean-O - Tuesday, Jun 1, 21 @ 2:42 pm:

    I guess we’re just going to ignore the giant elephant on the room here that the Governor has agreed to give Exelon another massive bailout so their execs can keep flying on corporate jets? Ya that won’t cost Illinois anything.

  24. - Lefty Lefty - Tuesday, Jun 1, 21 @ 2:51 pm:

    My town has estimated that we’d be on the hook for about $97 million if CEJA passes. But it also has been estimated that $6/month surcharge per customer could take care of it.

  25. - Publius - Tuesday, Jun 1, 21 @ 3:25 pm:

    Prarie State was a boondogle from the start. Just shut it down and switch everyone back to Excelon. Clean coal is long dead and never worked.

  26. - Shytown - Tuesday, Jun 1, 21 @ 3:51 pm:

    It just stinks. What was Harmon thinking?

  27. - Sn1848 - Tuesday, Jun 1, 21 @ 5:27 pm:

    Energy utilities do not produce the positive effects of low prices, technical efficiency when privately owned and operated under “market” conditions. The scale of capital needed up front, sunk-in for a long time, the consequent entrance barriers etc. demonstrate that utilities should be publicly owned, transparent, and accountable to democratic leaders. After the fiascos involving ComEd, Exelon, Madigan, Enron, and 100 years of US economic history the conclusion is clear. Make these utilities public - now.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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