Pritzker Signs ‘Transformative' Energy Plan Aimed at Bringing State to 100% Clean Energy by 2050

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Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Wednesday signed a wide-ranging energy plan to eliminate carbon emissions by 2050, despite the uncertainty of how much the legislation could cost residents.

Under the clean-energy package, two nuclear plants would be saved from closure and carbon-emitting coal plants closed during the next quarter-century. The Clean Energy Jobs Act also provides a $700 million subsidy to Exelon with the idea of saving jobs and the large amount of carbon-free energy the plants already produce.

In addition to the nuclear-power subsidy, the legislation, sponsored by Sen. Michael Hastings, a Tinley Park Democrat, includes provisions for closing coal-burning plants in central and southwest Illinois, investing in renewable energy such as wind and solar and offering $4,000 rebates on electric-vehicle purchases. Pritzker wants 1 million electric cars on roads by 2030.

“We can’t outrun or hide from climate change – not to the north, where the Boundary Waters burn; not to the south, where Ida swallows lives and livelihoods in the blink of an eye,” Pritzker said in a statement. “There is no time to lose. Thanks to the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, Illinois is taking action in the fight to stop and even reverse the damage that’s been done to our climate. As of today, Illinois is a force for good, for an environmental future we can be proud of. With economic growth and jobs woven into its fabric, this new law is the most significant step Illinois has taken in a generation toward a reliable, renewable, affordable and clean energy future in a generation.”

A number of Republicans have questioned the rise of utility rates under the plan, saying it could cost ratepayers as much as $15 or more monthly. 

"While clean power is essential for our state, both now and in the future, we cannot ignore the immediate effect on electricity rates this legislation will have," Illinois Rep. Dan Ugaste said in a statement earlier this month.

Proponents of the legislation say the average residential increase will amount to $3.50 a month.

Before the bill's passage in the Senate earlier this week, the Illinois Chamber of Commerce released a statement Monday calling the proposal flawed and one that will "dramatically increase costs and call reliability into question."

There are multiple hidden costs, said Rep. Charles Meier, an Okawville Republican, who represents the area including Prairie State Generating Co. in Marissa.

The coal plant and a separate plant, City Water, Light & Power in Springfield, must cut 45% of greenhouse gas emissions by 2035 and close permanently by 2045.

Meier previously said Prairie State’s municipal and co-op owners have taken steps to boost its clean energy production to 12%, compared with 7% statewide. He said the solar power grid necessary to replace Prairie State’s generation capacity alone would eat up 123,000 acres of “prime farmland.”

“We’re guessing,” Rep. Keith Wheeler of Oswego previously said. "We’re putting a huge goal on the board and if we don’t guess right, we’ll be buying fossil-based power from neighboring states.”

The package sets ethics standards for utilities to meet, given the criticism over what’s derided as a $700 million bailout for Exelon, whose subsidiary, utility giant ComEd, has acknowledged to federal prosecutors that it engaged in a decadelong bribery scheme in Springfield and is cooperating in an ongoing investigation that has implicated former House Speaker Michael Madigan and led to indictments of Madigan’s closest confidante and a former ComEd CEO, among others.

Illinois Sen. Mike Simmons, of Chicago, said while he's happy that Illinois is on a path to becoming free of fossil fuels, he voted "present" due to Exelon rate hikes and additional fees on residents.

"...SB 2408 implements a rate hike on lower-income folks and local businesses that are trying to weather an unrelenting pandemic," he said in a statement, in part. "I also have concerns with giving more money to Exelon right now when the public’s trust has been abused systemically in recent years by Commonwealth Edison."

NBC Chicago/Associated Press
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