State lawmakers, with support from Exelon, filed legislation Thursday for a proposed "low-carbon portfolio standard" as a means to boost the company's financially-struggling power plants.
Under the measure, annual consumer price increases would be capped at 2.015 percent compared to 2009 rates. That works out to be a $2 hike on monthly electricity bills for the average residential customer, according to Exelon.
Exelon, which says such a "market-based solution" would enable the company to keep three of its six supposedly unprofitable Illinois power plants open, would require Ameren and ComEd to "purchase low-carbon energy credits to match 70 percent of electricity used on the distribution system from qualified sources, which include solar, wind, hydro, nuclear, tidal, wave and clean coal."
Rep. Larry Walsh Jr. (D-Joliet) is the main sponsor of the legislation in the House, HB2607.
Chicago-based Exelon, the parent company of ComEd, claims its Byron, Clinton and Quad Cities plants in the state are struggling in part because of competition from natural gas and subsidized renewables. The nuclear giant has warned that the three plants could close prematurely if measures are not put in place by state lawmakers to help boost its supposedly unprofitable facilities.
To justify possible intervention from the state legislature, Exelon maintains that its low-emission nuclear plants will be central to Illinois' compliance with new carbon emission regulations under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's proposed Clean Power Plan.
The proposed low-carbon portfolio standard comes just a week after other state lawmakers backing the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition introduced legislation designed to strengthen statewide standards around energy efficiency and renewable energy.
The Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition released the following statement in response to the Exelon-backed measure:
There is only one comprehensive energy bill that costs less to consumers, promotes a cleaner environment and will create tens of thousands of new jobs in every part of Illinois -- that's the Illinois Clean Jobs bill. Introduced by Sen. Don Harmon and Rep. Elaine Nekritz with bipartisan support, when fully implemented the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill will create 32,000 new clean energy jobs per year by growing renewable energy and raising energy efficiency while giving Illinois a greater set of tools to help consumers, including the option of market-based strategies to reduce carbon pollution.
The Illinois Clean Jobs Bill sets a long-term clean energy policy that creates jobs -- rather than sunsetting soon, missing opportunities to create jobs and raising the risk that consumers will again be asked to pay more in just a few short years.
We look forward to reading Exelon's proposed bill more closely. But mostly, we look forward to discussing this issue in the months ahead, and we will continue to urge lawmakers to join their colleagues from both parties who have sponsored the bipartisan Illinois Clean Jobs Bill to enhance our environment and to create 32,000 new jobs per year.
Business groups are also weighing in on the introduction of Exelon's legislation. The Illinois Retail Merchants Association had this to say:
IRMA is reviewing the proposed Low Carbon Portfolio Standard put forth by Exelon. Once we have finished that review along with related proposals, then we will make a decision accordingly. However, retailers are concerned with the price and reliability of electricity. Electricity is often the second most costly expense item in a retailer's budget. The price of electricity is an advantage Illinois has enjoyed over other Midwestern states and many states nationally. The loss of the nuclear power stations in Illinois would seriously jeopardize reliability and sacrifice Illinois' advantage on price. Any proposals will be viewed through the impact we believe they will have on both reliability and price.
Gregory Baise, president and CEO of the Illinois Manufacturers' Association added: "The nuclear fleet in Illinois provides nearly half of all the electricity generated in the state in a low cost, efficient manner. Manufacturers point to the low cost of energy as one of the bright spots in our economy, but the possibility of premature closures in Exelon's nuclear fleet would have a ripple effect in our economy. In addition, last year's polar vortex reaffirmed the reliability of nuclear energy. The state has produced findings from a comprehensive report about the nuclear sector and the IMA is reviewing both this report and the Low Carbon Portfolio Standard that was announced today."
Meanwhile, David Kraft, director of the Nuclear Energy Information Service, a Chicago-based anti-nuclear group, is urging lawmakers against giving Exelon a "bailout."
"This is not a mere fight about 'jobs,' or even carbon rule compliance. It's about retaining control of electricity markets on only Exelon's terms," Kraft said. "The 21st century energy future of Illinois is at stake in this decision. Legislators who do not grasp the 'bigger picture' of what is going on here are going to be played like cheap violins by Exelon in this proposed legislation, and in the ensuing energy bill negotiations."
Read Progress Illinois coverage of Exelon's possible plant closures here and here.