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Update from the State Capitol: Fighting for cleaner energy and lower utility bills

This year alone, CUB Action Network members have sent more than 7,500 messages to Springfield in favor of good legislation and against bad bills—amazing!

But we know tracking all these bills can get confusing. As we enter the last week of the General Assembly’s Spring Legislative Session, here’s a summary of what CUB’s policy team has been working on at the State Capitol.

Most of these battles will spill over into the Fall Veto Session in November, where legislators are likely to consider an omnibus energy bill. CUB’s goal will be to negotiate an energy bills that promotes clean, low-cost energy and protects consumers’ pocketbooks.

Legislation: Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA), Senate Bill 2132/House Bill 3624.

CUB’s Take: We support it. CEJA is the most consumer-friendly energy bill in Springfield. It would expand energy efficiency and reform a key electricity market, called the “capacity” market. That would protect Illinois consumers from out-of-state power generators, like Vistra and NRG, that are working hard in Washington and Springfield to funnel more money to their own power plants.

Status: CEJA has advanced out of the House Energy and Environment Committee. Take action here.

Legislation: Home Energy Affordability and Transparency, or HEAT, Act, Senate Bill 651.

CUB’s Take: We support it. This bill would be a major step toward reforming Illinois’ energy markets to protect customers from bad alternative supplier deals. It would:

  • Stop alternative suppliers from automatically renewing a contract from a fixed rate to a variable rate (a rate that changes monthly), and then jacking up the price. The bill would require companies to get a customer signature before those contracts renew.
  • End termination fees on supply contracts for residential and small-business customers.
  • Protect Low Income Heating Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funds from supplier overcharges, making sure the money available can help as many people as possible.
  • Require alternative supplier marketing materials as well as utility bills to clearly state the utility’s price, so consumers can make an apples-to-apples price comparison.

Status: Good news! The HEAT Act unanimously passed both houses in late May. We’re hoping Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs it.

Legislation: The Clean Energy Progress Act (HB 2861).

CUB’s Take: Wait and See. This is a wide-ranging bill, pushed by ComEd-parent Exelon, that includes capacity market reforms, similar to what the Clean Energy Jobs Act wants. It also would include more support for renewable energy development—and, of course, more support for Exelon nuclear plants. The capacity reforms are promising, as Exelon says the bill would “guarantee savings for consumers beginning in the first year of implementation and continuing throughout the program, adjusted for inflation.”

Status: The bill was voted out of the House Public Utilities Committee.

Legislation: Amendment #3 to Senate Bill 135/Amendment #2 to House Bill 125.

CUB’s Take: We’re opposed. This bill is being pushed by NRG Energy, Illinois’ second-largest coal plant operator. It would eliminate money-saving energy efficiency measures and potentially give the company a bailout of up to $300 million a year. Fossil-fuel power plants are expensive and struggling to compete with cheaper, cleaner forms of energy. So this bill amounts to an unnecessary bailout paid for by consumers to prop up power plants that are already on their way out of the market.

Status: Has not advanced. CUB will continue to fight this bill into the November Veto Session. Take action here. 

Legislation: Amendment #4 to Senate Bill 2080.

CUB’s Take: We’re opposed. This legislation would increase electric bills statewide by at least $1 billion and likely more by 2030 to give dirty power plants and other power generators a huge bailout. It also would eliminate key consumer protections and increase ComEd and Ameren Illinois electric rates.

Status: CUB will be fighting this bill in the November Veto Session. Take action here.

Legislation: House Bill 3233, Senate Amendment 1/ HB 391, House Amendment 1.

CUB’s Take: We’re Opposed. This capital bill would, among other things, increase the annual registration fee for electric vehicles by 5,600%–from $17.50 to $1,000. The bill aims to fund improvements to roads, bridges and transit systems. That’s important—but not at the expense of a technology (EVs) that can decrease our driving expenses and our electricity costs. This fee increase is far too high. In March, CUB released a study that showed the state implementing smart EV policy could lead to $2 billion in lower electricity costs for all Illinois consumers—even those who don’t drive an EV. CUB told the Chicago Tribune: “The proposed fee increase is…punitive, it’s unfair and it goes against Illinois’ transportation trends and needs.”  

Status: Gov. Pritzker came out with his own capital bill that proposed a $250 annual registration fee. That bill passed. CUB Executive Director David Kolata said EV owners like him would have preferred the fee to be lower, but he welcomed the U-turn by legislators in the final legislation. “The proposal of $1,000 was designed to be punitive,” he said. “This is a more reasonable outcome.”

Legislation: House Bill 3044.

CUB’s Take: We support it. This measure would reign in out-of-control spending for the Peoples Gas pipeline-replacement program. The program’s projected costs have skyrocketed to as much as $11 billion. HB 3044 would bar Peoples Gas from imposing a surcharge that helps it pay for the program and it would subject the utility’s program spending to traditional regulatory oversight and more scrutiny.

Status: This legislation has not yet  moved forward, even though consumer advocates like CUB, AARP Illinois and Illinois PIRG have warned that the out-of-control spending in the program could spark a heating-affordability crisis. In a step forward, a Chicago City Council committee has passed a resolution urging the General Assembly to take action to reform the pipe-replacement program. Take action here.