Downstate lawmakers, manufacturers concerned about future energy supply

Published: May. 4, 2022 at 6:41 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WGEM) - Illinois lawmakers passed a bipartisan plan last year to move Illinois closer to 100% clean energy by 2050. Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the bill into law in September to save the nuclear fleet in Illinois and start the process to decarbonize the state’s energy sector.

But the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association says families in central and southern Illinois could soon be paying nearly $600 more in annual electricity costs since they say there will be less reliability for the MISO power grid. Many Republicans also argue wind and solar won’t be able to provide enough power downstate.

Lawmakers had to go back to the drawing board for clean-up language this session in order to address minor issues brought up by stakeholders. That is a common practice after passing major reforms with many pieces involved. The 99-page trailer bill passed out of both chambers before session adjourned in early April. The House voted 83-25 on the plan, and it passed out of the Senate on a 40-17 vote.

The trailer bill passed this spring addresses supplier diversity issues by requiring non-utility companies to report improvements in diversity. Lawmakers hope to see more minority and women-owned businesses brought to the forefront as that was a critical portion of CEJA. In fact, the law created a clean jobs workforce network to help people in Black and brown communities start clean energy careers. There’s also a jobs and environmental justice grant program to put funds upfront to help community ownership and development of renewable projects.

Still, state manufacturers say their businesses will be forced to pay millions of dollars more in energy costs due to the closing of coal plants throughout the state. Some advocates argue Illinois should utilize “diverse renewable energy resources” such as combined heat power, waste heat, biofuels, and hydrogen in addition to wind and solar to reduce emissions. They want lawmakers to take up the eighth amendment to the trailer bill that was tabled in the House on April 7.

IMA President and CEO Mark Denzler also argued the definition of clean energy should be amended to include all renewable resources. However, clean energy experts say that can’t happen in Illinois. J.C. Kibbey with the Natural Resources Defense Council said the proposed amendment to Senate Bill 3866 would work against the monumental changes made in the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act.

“It guts our state’s clean energy goals, and it exempts large fossil fuel plans from our clean air and climate protections,” Kibbey said. “All these would be on top of the many compromises that industrial users already received in the course of negotiating this bill.”

Kibbey also noted that environmental and labor groups didn’t get everything they wanted in the long run either. However, he noted that is all part of the negotiating process for legislation.

“There are major plants in central and southern Illinois that right now are trying to figure out how they’re going to run their operation in eight years because wind and solar don’t generate steam,” Denzler explained. “There are major facilities that employ thousands of people and jobs that average $100,000 a year. They’re calling me and telling me we don’t know how we’re going to operate in eight years.”

All private coal and oil electric plants must reach zero emissions by 2030. Meanwhile, larger municipal plants like Dalman 4 in Springfield must close by 2045 unless they reach zero carbon emissions.

Meanwhile, the Illinois Electricity and Natural Gas Rates organization says the demand for energy in central and southern Illinois will not be met by the existing supply of clean energy sources. Advocates say they want to help the state reach clean energy goals while also keeping prices low.

Rep. Tim Butler (R-Springfield) said most of the people who negotiated and voted on CEJA won’t be affected by the elimination of coal-fired power plants because they live in or near Chicago.

“We have gone down and chosen to go down the path because of legislation like this to become California,” Butler said. “And I can tell you, folks, you’re going into an election year and your constituents can’t turn on the lights and they can’t power their AC when it’s 90 degrees outside. You’re going to hear about it.”

Rep. Larry Walsh Jr. (D-Elwood) was the lead sponsor of the trailer bill and chairs the House Public Utilities Committee. He told members that they will meet again this summer for further discussion on improving the energy sector.

“This whole energy field across the nation is changing,” Walsh said. “Let’s have this open and honest dialogue to where we can find solutions. It’s not going to be the best for everybody. But at the end of the day, I think we’re all reasonable people here and we can find reasonable solutions to address.”

A vote on proposals addressing energy prices likely won’t be addressed until lawmakers return in the late fall after the November election or January lame-duck session. Senate Bill 3866 should arrive on Pritzker’s desk soon.

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