Metro-East News

Nuclear power ‘bailout’ bill passes in Illinois legislature

A nuclear power plant “bailout” bill appears set to become law after making its way through the Illinois House and Senate on Thursday.

The legislation funnels $235 million a year to power-producing giant Exelon Corp. for 13 years. The money subsidizes unprofitable nuclear plants in Clinton and the Quad Cities that Exelon said would be shuttered over the next 18 months.

Opponents argued that it was wrong to subsidize a company that remains profitable, and that coal-fired power companies haven’t gotten such help. They also argued it will cost consumers.

“Here we go again, picking winners and losers,” said Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon. “The money has to come from somewhere. This is a bailout for a very profitable company.”

The bill, which has the backing of Gov. Bruce Rauner, calls for expanded rebates for community solar, and commercial and industrial solar installations, among other things.

Rauner, who is expected to sign the bill, lauded it as an example of bipartisan politics.

“For months our administration has been very clear that any energy legislation should follow the guiding principles of protecting jobs, ratepayers and taxpayers,” Rauner said in a news release. “After dozens of hours of good faith negotiations, we have reached an agreement that aligns with those principles. This legislation will save thousands of jobs. It protects ratepayers, through guaranteed caps, from large rate increases in years to come. It also ensures taxpayers are not on the hook to keep the power plants open and online.

“We thank the rank-and-file legislators and stakeholders for their perseverance and commitment to seeing this through. This process shows that when all parties are willing to negotiate in good faith, we can find agreement and move our state forward.”

According to a press release from Rauner’s office, the bill contains a guaranteed cap that says prices can not increase more than 25 cents on the average home and can’t increase more than 1.3 percent on commercial and industrial users for the next decade. Rates are expected to decrease for the first few years due to utilities being able to amortize energy efficiency.

“After intense negotiations, we are pleased to report that our fight to protect the interests of downstate customers was successful,” Ameren Illinois President Richard Mark said in a statement. “Senate Bill 2814 will enable Ameren Illinois to continue investing to strengthen the electric grid to improve service reliability and implement new energy efficiency programs. Plus, it will keep two nuclear facilities operational, preserving more than 4,000 jobs and keeping energy supply costs lower.

“From the first day this legislation was proposed, our singular focus was on ensuring that our customers weren’t unfairly saddled with higher monthly costs without the resulting benefits. What was once a proposed $2-per-month bill increase is now a less than 12-cent-per-month increase and could result in a slight decrease in customer rates over the life of the plan.”

The legislation has been called a "bailout" of two Exelon-operated nuclear power plants — one in Cordova, and one in Clinton.

The bill passed through the House by a 63-38 margin. It needed 60 votes to pass. The Senate vote was 32-18 in favor. Votes among metro-east representatives was mixed. State Rep. Eddie Lee Jackson, D-East St. Louis, and Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, were the lone metro-east House members to vote in favor of the bill.

Voting against the bill in the House were Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville; Rep. Dan Beiser, D-Alton; and Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon.

Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Smithton, did not vote.

In the Senate, Sen. William Haine, D-Alton; Sen. David Luechtefeld, R-Okawville, and McCarter voted against the bill. Sen. James Clayborne, Jr., D-Belleville, voted in favor of the bill.