Illinois House approves clean energy plan, includes funding to save Byron nuclear plant

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WTVO) — The Illinois House has approved a clean energy deal which includes a subsidy for Exelon to keep the Byron nuclear plant in operation.

The plan gives Exelon $694 million to keep the Byron and Dresden plants operational. Exelon had previously begun drawing down the Byron plant with an anticipated retirement date of Monday, September 13th, and had warned that once the nuclear fuel had been depleted, it could not be refueled after that date.

Exelon took some steps toward closing the plant in February 2019, saying the Byron plant costs more to operate than it can afford, blaming declining energy prices and competition with fossil fuel plants.

The plant has been in operation since 1985.

The clean energy plan expects to eliminate carbon emissions by 2050, and also raises residential electric rates by 3%, closes all private coal-fired power plants by 2035, and uses existing funds to create a $4,000 rebate for consumers who purchase an electric vehicle, among other provisions.

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.

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. 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 returns to the Senate for consideration of the changes.

On Thursday morning, Gov. JB Pritzker said he would approve the current compromise if passed.

The proposal aims to put one million electric vehicles on Illinois roads over the next nine years, and to transition the sixth largest state in the nation to a 100% clean energy sector by 2050. The plan would shutter private, for-profit coal powered plants that generate more than 25 megawatts of electric generating units by 2030, and it would close down municipally-owned coal-fired power plants and natural gas power plants by a deadline of 2045.

The package includes $280.5 million in grants for the ‘Coal to Solar Energy Storage Initiative Fund,’ $203 million in annual grants for various wind, solar, and clean jobs initiatives, $140 million for the ‘Energy Transition Assistance Fund,’ $14 million in new annual spending for regulatory agencies, and it allows the state to spend $10 million each year on purchasing electric vehicles to upgrade the government fleet.

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 decade long 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.

The plan now returns to the Senate.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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