Legal & Regulatory

Illinois Nuke Bailout Bill Draws Praise, Fire

A mammoth, wide-ranging energy measure under consideration by the Illinois legislature that would provide billions of dollars in support for energy efficiency, microgrids, and—most controversially—the Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear power plants made it out of a key committee on Nov. 29 and could see a final vote by the end of the week.

The Future Energy Jobs Bill, known as SB 2814, has already seen significant changes since it was introduced last week during a shortened veto session that is scheduled to end on Dec. 1. Among the revisions was removal of a provision supporting coal plants in the southern region of the state and increased support for energy efficiency measures. Support for microgrid development by utility Commonwealth Edison was scaled back but remains in the bill.

While the support scheme for the state’s nuclear plants remains intact, it too was revised. The zero emissions credit program, which would subsidize power from the plants to the tune of $235 million a year, was changed to add a 10-year sunset provision.

The bill’s provisions will be paid for by rate increases that are estimated at 12 cents to 25 cents a month. Supporters say these increases are far less than resulting wholesale power price increases that would result if the nuclear plants close.

Environmental groups had initially opposed the bill because of its support for coal, but the changes, especially added funding for energy efficiency—which accounts for the largest share at $7.7 billion—brought several of them on board. Representatives from the Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Sierra Club threw their support behind the bill on Tuesday, saying it would boost investment in renewable energy in Illinois, where it has mostly lagged.

But the bill still faces substantial opposition ranging from ratepayer groups—concerned about changes to consumer protections and rate hikes—to business groups and free-market advocates who have blasted what they see as a retreat from the state’s deregulated market. Some also challenged the estimated costs, saying rate hikes will end up being far larger.

“Government-mandated energy standards, such as the low carbon portfolio standard, artificially manipulate the energy market and force citizens to pay more than they would in a free market for electricity,” said Matthew Glans, senior policy analyst with The Heartland Institute. “The average retail price of electricity in Illinois is already higher than all its neighboring states—and the Exelon bailout would increase electric bills for Illinois households by around $442 to $526 per year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.”

The bill could see a full vote in the House as early as this afternoon. The Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee will take up the bill today but no vote is currently scheduled.

—Thomas W. Overton, JD is a POWER associate editor (@thomas_overton, @POWERmagazine).

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