Illinois House advances sweeping energy overhaul — and marathon legislative effort sputters closer to finish lineRachel Hintonon September 10, 2021 at 3:23 am

Lawmakers in the Illinois House advanced wide-ranging energy legislation Thursday, inching the state closer to an overhaul of that sector.

The Senate bill passed the chamber 83 to 33 and now returns to the Senate so members can concur with the House’s legislation. Senators plan to return Monday in hopes of sending the legislation to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk.

The sweeping legislation provides more than half a billion dollars to keep Exelon’s nuclear plants open. But it also raises utility rates anywhere from about $3 a month to $15, according to conflicting estimates.

The House returned Thursday to take up, and pass, the legislation after the Senate advanced its own version last week during a special session. The House version is largely identical to that bill.

State Rep. David Welter, R-Morris, said he thought the moment would be “more joyful. His district represents half of the state’s nuclear fleet and “thousands and thousands of jobs.”

Welter expressed “frustration” that his side of the aisle has been shut out of the negotiations on the bill and the bill wouldn’t get the full support of the Republicans in the chamber.

“We tell people they have to vote their districts,” Welter said. “We hear that often. That’s why I’m up here today, that’s why I’m going to support this bill because I have to vote my district, but this process is crap.

“Failed leadership is why we are here today … I will be voting yes because the people back home expect me to. I can’t go back home voting no on this bill.”

State Rep. David Welter, R-Morris, tells lawmakers that he will vote for the bill, but expresses frustration on the lack of bipartisan discussions on the energy proposal on the House floor on Thursday.Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP

Welter and other Republicans criticized the bill for doing “nothing” to settle debts for ratepayers in some communities and raising the rates they’ll pay for their electricity.

State Rep. Marcus Evans, D-Chicago, said the bill he sponsored would cost ratepayers about $3 a month, while an AARP study claims that amount might be closer to $15.

State Rep. Tony McCombie, R-Savanna, said “this is a bad bill.”

“It’s not about clean energy,” McCombie said. “It’s about renewable energy. This is not pro union, this is not pro family. This is not pro clean energy. This is extortion.”

Some Democrats said they didn’t want to sacrifice a good bill for a perfect one.

House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch said the bill will help “people all over this state.”

“Let’s put the rhetoric aside the politics aside and think about the people that we all represent,” Welch said. “What we have done here today is monumental, and it should be celebrated, not castigated. It’s historic and it will positively impact people in each and every one of our districts.”

House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, left, talks with state Rep. LaShawn Ford, D-Chicago, during debate of a comprehensive energy proposal, on the House floor on Thursday.Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP

The sweeping legislation provides $694 million over five years to Exelon’s Byron, Dresden, and Braidwood nuclear plants. Those funds will also help keep the LaSalle nuclear plant open. That subsidy will cost the average residential ratepayer about $0.80 a month.

Municipal coal firing plants — Prairie State and Springfield’s City Water, Light and Power — will be required to cut their emissions by 45% by 2035 before closing 10 years later unless they can generate green hydrogen or use similar technology to get to zero carbon emissions.

If Prairie State fails to meet the 2035 emissions goal, it will have to close one of its two generation units by 2038.

Private coal and oil fired facilities will be required to close by 2030 and natural gas-firing plants will also be required to close by 2045.

The bill ends the controversial formula rate system and transitions to a “performance-based” system that will be overseen by the Illinois Commerce Commission for utilities that serve more than 500,000 customers.

It also requires the commerce commission to investigate how ratepayer funds were used in line with with actions by ComEd that were detailed in a deferred prosecution agreement involving the utility. That investigation could result in refunds to residential ratepayers.

The bill also requires utilities to establish the position of a chief ethics and compliance officer who must submit annual reports to the ICC.

The bill received support from organized labor, environmental groups and advocates as well as Pritzker who said the measure “puts consumers and climate first, while protecting and creating jobs.”

Members of the House also voted to accept changes to an ethics package that the governor called for in an amendatory veto. The chamber failed to approve those changes during their special session last Tuesday after Republicans withdrew their support for the bill.

Ahead of Thursday’s vote, Republican lawmakers urged their colleagues to vote no on the “watered down” legislation.

State Rep. Kelly Burke, D-Evergreen Park, said before the vote the chamber’s standing ethics committee will “continue to hear and vet bills in the new session, so please, let’s get this bill into law, and then continue our work.”

Shortly after the vote, state Rep. Frances Hurley filed a motion to reconsider, which means the bill can’t advance until that motion is removed.

A source within the House’s Democratic ranks said the motion was filed “out of an abundance of caution” after two Republicans voted yes on the bill. The motion will make sure they don’t try to block the measure.

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