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By JOHN O'CONNOR | AP Political Writer

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — The Illinois House was poised on Thursday to approve a wide-ranging plan to eliminate carbon emissions by 2050, with a compromise allowing two coal-fired plants to remain open until 2045 but cut their emissions by nearly half in the next 14 years.

The Executive Committee approved the massive plan on a partisan roll call of 9-6 early Thursday afternoon, with Republicans who rejected the proposal saying that they support helping keep northern Illinois nuclear plants operating but that the abrupt end of coal-generated power would cost thousands of jobs and merely leave Illinois reliant on energy produced by burning fossil fuels in other states.

But Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, unhappy with a proposal that won Senate approval last week, complimented House Democrats for "reaching a compromise amendment that puts consumers and climate first, while protecting and creating jobs" and pledged to "sign this historic agreement into law."[1]

The idea is that Illinois would do its part to slow climate change by eliminating carbon emissions. The legislation, which is sponsored by Democratic Rep. Marcus Evans of Chicago, requires a $700 million subsidy to keep the state's nuclear power-plant fleet afloat, and includes provisions that would close coal plants in central and southwest Illinois, invest in renewable energy such as wind and solar, and provide incentives for the production and purchase of electric vehicles.

The chief change from the version the Senate adopted affects two coal plants, Springfield's municipally owned City Water Light & Power and the Prairie State Generating Co. in Marissa, 41 miles (65 kilometers) southeast of St. Louis. The Senate plan required the plants to close by 2045. But after pressure from environmental groups, lawmakers would now require a step-down in carbon emissions of 45% by 2035 in the latest version of the bill.

With a House OK, the bill would return to the Senate for consideration of the changes.

Driving the action as much as Pritzker's pledge to make Illinois a no-carbon state by 2050 is utility giant Exelon's threat to begin closing nuclear plants owned by subsidiary ComEd in Byron and Morris.[2] That would cost thousands of jobs and a large share of the carbon-free power the state already produces.

"The bill will create thousands of new clean energy union jobs, expand union apprenticeships for Black and Latinx communities, increase energy efficiency for public schools and safeguard thousands of union workers at the state's nuclear plants that currently generate the bulk of Illinois' zero-emissions energy," read a statement from the interest group Climate Jobs Illinois.

Some opponents have questioned the increase of utility rates under the plan, saying it could cost ratepayers as much as $15 or more monthly. Evans said Thursday the increase would not top $4.50 a month.

But critics complain that the state, which gave ComEd a subsidy in an energy plan several years ago, is rewarding the utility despite its admission to federal prosecutors that it engaged in a decadelong bribery scheme in Springfield that has implicated former House Speaker Michael Madigan and led to indictments of Madigan's closest confidante and a former ComEd CEO, among others.[3]

Furthermore, central and southern Illinois lawmakers are worried about the closure of the Springfield and Marissa coal plants. They worry not only about the loss of union jobs there, but also about what they say is little detail on how their generating capacity will be replaced.

"We're guessing," said Rep. Keith Wheeler of Oswego, the Executive Committee's ranking Republican. "We're putting a huge goal on the board and if we don't guess right, we'll be buying fossil-based power from neighboring states."

Notes & References

Follow Political Writer John O'Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor

  1. Tareen, Sophia. “Illinois Senate Passes Energy Deal Governor Says Falls Short.” AP NEWS. Associated Press, September 1, 2021. https://apnews.com/article/business-illinois-3cec8b0dbcb82a606cc557fc76036d2e. ↩︎

  2. Tribune, Dan PetrellaChicago. “Exelon Moves to Shut down 2 Nuclear Power Plants in Illinois.” pantagraph.com, July 29, 2021. https://pantagraph.com/news/state-and-regional/exelon-moves-to-shut-down-2-nuclear-power-plants-in-illinois/article_2f61090a-fb68-56af-a126-8b34875b1f05.html. ↩︎

  3. O'connor, John. “Ex-Illinois House Speaker Michael MADIGAN to Resign Seat.” AP NEWS. Associated Press, February 18, 2021. https://apnews.com/article/legislature-illinois-michael-madigan-chicago-8e7c4a259cb6d0652562877a3b8b3044. ↩︎