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Why we need a Clean Energy Jobs Act

By David Kolata, CUB Executive Director

David Kolata

(Update: Since this column was written, the House Energy and Environment Committee voted to advance the Clean Energy Jobs Act, sponsored by State Rep. Ann Williams and State Sen. Cristina Castro [House Bill 3624/Senate Bill 2132]. The bill awaits a committee vote in the Senate. If you haven’t already, please send a message to Springfield in favor of the Clean Energy Jobs Act.)

For months, CUB has been sounding the alarm about an issue that could raise the electric bills of most Illinoisans by up to $500 million a year and punish the state for trying to give its residents, clean, affordable energy.

It’s the biggest threat to Illinois electric customers, and it’s one of the biggest reasons we support the Clean Energy Jobs Act.

When CUB opened its doors 35 years ago, we had some of the highest power bills in the country. But now Illinois has some of the lowest, thanks to a series of groundbreaking pieces of energy legislation, including the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA) of 2016.

But there’s still a lot of work to do, and our progress is being threatened by out-of-state fossil fuel generators.

For years, these power generators—big companies like Calpine, NRG and Vistra—have known they were losing in the market because of the falling price of renewable energy sources, like wind and solar. So they’ve pushed for changes in a key power market, called the “capacity market.”

Capacity costs refer to extra payments consumers give power plant operators for the commitment to have enough electricity available if demand suddenly spikes (like on hot summer afternoons). For most Illinois electric customers, these costs are determined through special auctions managed by an out-of-state power-grid operator called PJM Interconnection.

But the auction rules have been stacked against consumers for years, thanks to those big generators, making capacity costs a bigger and bigger chunk of our electric bills. And now PJM is pushing a plan that would make everything even worse.

It would funnel more money to fossil fuel generators to offset incentives that FEJA awarded generators that use cleaner sources. Here’s the frustrating part: That would force consumers to pay inflated prices for power they don’t actually need.

Critics have called the plan a “billion-dollar giveaway…to a few lucky fossil-fuel generators.”

There are a lot of reasons to support the Clean Energy Jobs Act, but one of the biggest is that it’s tackling this crucial capacity issue.

The act would put the Illinois Power Agency (IPA) in charge of managing the state’s capacity market. The IPA already manages electricity purchases for Illinois’ big utilities—and part of its mission is to secure the lowest costs possible for consumers.

Put another way, Illinois—and not some out-of-state interests—would now be in charge of its own clean energy policy, as it should be. Even better, that would create the opportunity for Illinois to greatly expand clean energy and at the same time save consumers money. It’s a win-win.