Southern Illinois lawmaker says fossil fuel plants should stay open to meet energy demand

Published: Jul. 25, 2022 at 3:52 PM CDT
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QUINCY (WGEM) - A downstate Illinois lawmaker said it is time for the General Assembly to return to Springfield and address rising energy prices. Sen. Terri Bryant (R-Murphysboro) has filed three bills that could address the energy supply for Ameren customers.

Bryant said coal and gas plants must stay open past the 2045 closure date set in the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act. She argued sponsors of that plan didn’t care about Central or Southern Illinois when they cut off the fossil fuel energy supply.

While Bryant hopes to repeal the closure date for coal and gas plants, her plan would also allow natural gas companies to build new peaker plants without worrying about a forced closing date. Another proposal would repurpose $10 million of funding for clean energy technology to modernize coal and gas plants with carbon capture technology. It would also create a power grid task force to study the effects of state laws on energy prices and grid reliability.

“It makes no sense to permanently shut down power plants if we can retrofit them in a way to eliminate their carbon emissions, especially if their shutdown puts our state’s energy-producing capacity at risk,” Bryant said.

Bryant noted that similar ideas were brought up during the floor debates on CEJA in 2021. However, she believes most Democrats didn’t want to listen to their Republican colleagues.

“Continue to research clean energy and renewables,” Bryant said. “I’m all for that, but not at the expense of all of Southern Illinois being forced into bankruptcy because people can’t afford their energy costs.”

Bryant said she’s worried many seniors may die if they don’t turn on their fans or air conditioning because of the higher utility bills. Her final proposal would eliminate “red tape” preventing new power plants from coming online by expediting the state’s permit process.

The Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition said the answer to capacity and price issues is not reopening CEJA. The green energy advocates said the best solution is getting existing renewable projects online faster.

“There are currently 34 solar and wind projects capable of generating more than 6,000 megawatts of energy sitting in MISO’s queue awaiting approval, enough to power 4.5 million Illinois homes,” the coalition said. “MISO must act more quickly to speed the conversion from dirty, expensive fossil fuels to clean, less expensive renewables.”

Bryant said she is constantly hearing from families, school districts and manufacturers concerned about the rising energy prices. She blamed Gov. J.B. Pritzker and President Joe Biden for pushing clean energy plans that cut fossil fuel supply for 10 states on the Midcontinent Independent System Operator grid. Bryant feels no one should blame MISO for the current issues.

“Calling out MISO for this problem is absolutely ridiculous,” Bryant added. “You know, they want to try to pass the buck because they know what they did is damaging.”

Bryant argued clean energy lobbyists shouldn’t be calling the shots in Springfield since lawmakers have the responsibility to provide essential needs for communities. Several facilities, like the Prairie State coal plant in the Metro East, were already using carbon capture technology before lawmakers passed CEJA.

The MISO board of directors voted Monday to approve a major portfolio for regional transmission line projects. This MISO Future 1 plan invests in wind, solar, hybrid and battery power to help states deliver energy. For Illinois, the operator expects to have 2,979 megawatts from wind, 2,871 megawatts from solar, 1,971 megawatts created by hybrid and 15 megawatts from battery power. MISO estimates the new transmission plan could power 1,825,366 homes and create 31,735 jobs in Illinois.

“The Midwest desperately needs these lines to help avoid blackouts, and they also will save customers $37 billion in energy costs over time. But our work is far from done,” said Toba Pearlman, a renewable energy advocate with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “We must push immediately to approve the other lines MISO has identified.”

The Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition also called the MISO vote a positive step, but they argued the operator must act faster to speed conversion from dirty, expensive fossil fuels to clean renewables. CEJA sponsors explained last week that there are 34 clean energy projects in the MISO queue waiting for approval. The wind and solar projects could generate more than 6,000 megawatts of energy and power 4.5 million homes downstate.

“If Ameren customers ever find themselves in the dark, MISO’s past inaction is to blame,” the coalition said. “Now, they must move faster to approve these renewable energy projects that will bring down prices and improve grid reliability.”

Still, Bryant feels Pritzker and Democratic leaders from both chambers should call for a special session to address the grid reliability as soon as possible. The Senate plans to meet in the Howlett Building while the chamber is under construction for several years. That space likely won’t be ready for senators to work in until the scheduled veto session starting in November.

“We could meet in the House chambers, and it wouldn’t cost the state any more than what they’re currently paying. It doesn’t mean that we would have to meet at the Bank of Springfield Center,” Bryant said. “For goodness sakes, I just took a youth advisory council to meet at the old state capitol in Vandalia. If there’s a will, there’s a way to do it.”

Bryant filed her bills two weeks ago, but the bills weren’t read into the Senate records yet. The proposals can’t be read into the record until there is a perfunctory session.

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