After more than two years pushing for comprehensive energy legislation that fights climate change and secures clean, affordable energy for Illinois, we’ve taken a key step forward this month. In the wee hours of the morning Wednesday, Sept. 1, the Illinois Senate passed legislation and sent it to the House.
“This is definitely a step in the right direction, but there’s more work to do in the House to finalize this legislation,” CUB Communications Director Jim Chilsen said. “Failure is not an option when it comes to passing legislation that seeks consumer-friendly ways to solve a problem we can’t ignore: climate change. It is essential that we get a strong, pro-consumer clean energy bill across the finish line.”
While there was broad agreement on most of SB 18’s provisions, there were still key issues to be resolved in the House. That included a timeline for coal-fired power plants, like the municipally owned Prairie State facility in Southern Illinois and Springfield’s Dallman coal plant, to ratchet down their emissions for the next several years before closing for good in 2045.
Then, on Friday, September 3, it was reported that a new amendment, SB 1751, House Amendment 1 (the Climate and Equitable Jobs Bill), included such pollution-reduction targets for those two plants. The amendment is supported by the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition, of which CUB is a member, and Gov. J.B. Pritzker. The amendment includes a plan to move Illinois to a zero-carbon power grid by 2045, with specific benchmarks for Prairie State and Dallman: They would have to reduce carbon emissions by 45 percent by 2035, and 100 percent by 2045. (Take Action: Urge the Illinois House to support the Climate and Equitable Jobs Bill.)
The House could take up the legislation as early as Wednesday. (A House committee has scheduled a hearing on the bill for Thursday.) If the House passes a bill with key changes, it will have to be sent back to the Senate for consideration.
There is urgency to pass a bill:
- A grim report from the United Nations stressed that the world must begin now to move away from dirty energy in order to prevent the most catastrophic effects of climate change. CUB’s own research shows that not only is climate change a health threat, but it also could lead to billions of dollars in higher power bills if we do nothing.
- Money to support clean, affordable solar power has dried up. The Chicago Sun-Times reported that after a state incentive program ran out of money last year, just 313 small rooftop solar projects were completed statewide in the three-month period ending June 30. That’s compared with 2,908 a year earlier. Solar had been booming in Illinois, but stumbled after these incentives from an earlier law, the Future Energy Jobs Act, ran out.
- Energy giant Exelon has said it will close two nuclear power plants, Byron and Dresden, if it doesn’t get support through the energy legislation. In fact, after the bill passed the Senate, the company said Illinois must finalize the legislation by Sept. 13, or Byron will close. Most Illinois leaders agree that nuclear power is a least-cost bridge to a 100 percent clean energy future.
- Exelon’s subsidiary, ComEd, has been under a cloud of scandal, giving the state an unprecedented opportunity to pass utility accountability reforms.
Knowing there is an urgency to act, CUB and environmental advocates have been close to getting a bill passed several times since May. But each time our momentum has been tripped up by fossil fuel interests that wanted coal-fired power plants to stay open indefinitely.
Gov. Pritzker wants to pass an equitable climate bill that would make Illinois a national leader in helping communities that have suffered the most from dirty energy—including Black and Brown communities, lower-income towns and those abandoned by the coal industry—make the transition to a clean energy economy. That means more clean energy businesses and jobs for the state as it recovers from COVID-19. In addition to those important provisions, there are a lot of other pro-consumer planks that CUB supports.
The Climate and Equitable Jobs Bill would:
- Launch a responsible plan to fight climate change and work toward a zero-carbon power grid by 2045. (This is an urgent need for our planet and our bottom lines. A CUB study found that unchecked climate change could lead to $10.9 billion in higher electric bills over the next 30 years.)
- Support low-cost clean energy and give a boost to the solar energy market.
- Replace ComEd’s unfair formula rate-setting system with one that can provide more oversight. The ComEd corruption scandal is tied to legislation it pushed that has led to hundreds of millions of dollars in rate hikes for Illinois consumers. (CUB is fighting in federal court for a refund for ComEd customers harmed by the company’s scandal, but the consumer group also wants to replace formula rates with a system that has more regulatory oversight.)
- Create an independent ethics monitor at the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) to rein in utilities. Also, require ComEd and Ameren to have an ethics compliance officer at their headquarters.
- Pave the way for cleaner, more affordable electric transportation options. (For example, legislation aims to put 1 million electric vehicles on Illinois roadways, and encourages large vehicles such as buses and delivery trucks to go electric.)
- Expand energy efficiency programs that have already helped lower energy bills by billions of dollars.