It was almost five years ago that a ‘comprehensive’ energy bill came out of Springfield that was supposed to build Illinois’ green energy industry
and protect jobs at two nuclear plants. Guess what didn’t happen.
Illinois lawmakers could return to Springfield as soon as next week to work on a big energy bill designed to help direct the state’s energy future, reduce pollution and boost underdeveloped green energy industries.
No, this is not an editorial from five years ago. It’s just a rerun of what happened in the Legislature in 2016 when the first “comprehensive” Illinois energy bill was debated (clearly not enough) and passed. That legislation didn’t meet its ambitious goals, except to deliver about a billion dollars more to Exelon Corp. and its shareholders. That money came from customers of Commonwealth Edison, an Exelon subsidiary, who are paying higher rates to keep the Clinton and Cordova nuclear plants operating.
A lot of people in central Illinois were glad to see the 34-year-old Clinton nuclear plant remain open after Exelon had threatened to close it in 2017, citing millions of dollars in losses. The energy bill was supposed to “protect” jobs at the Clinton plant, and, semantically speaking, it did. But there are 65 fewer of them today than in 2016.
Meanwhile, Clinton could be roiled all over again in five years when Exelon’s pledge to keep the two nuclear plants open for 10 years expires.
In this latest big energy bill, Exelon is looking at about $600 million in subsidies from ratepayers — less than in the earlier deal — to keep three other nuclear plants, at Dresden, Braidwood and Byron, operating.
Other parts of the energy bill, which is still being negotiated, supposedly include subsidies for solar and wind energy projects to help create thousands of jobs, a phase-out of all coal-fired power plants in the state by 2035 and a state free of all carbon-based energy production by 2050.
Those are, for the most part, laudable goals. But those were some of the same goals as the 2016 bill, which won strong support in the Legislature and from then-Gov. Bruce Rauner, but went unmet.
There’s no need to rush this legislation. This time, let all the interested parties get a chance to review and comment on the bill, ensure that it will do what its advocates intend and that the agencies involved have the staff and resources to carry out its goals. Do it right this time.