In play for coal support, Exelon loses key backers of energy bill
Exelon’s energy bill has landed at last, containing ratepayer-financed benefits for virtually every energy interest in Illinois, including now Dynegy’s large but financially ailing coal-fired fleet of plants downstate.
So why are so few happy? Because some interests getting goodies don’t want certain other interests to get any.
The last-minute addition of provisions aimed at keeping coal plants running and even maybe allowing one mothballed unit to be reopened has environmental groups that were previously prepared to support the bill now in opposition. They include the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council, which have been negotiating with Exelon for months over language to support new wind farms and solar development in Illinois, as well as a major expansion of utility-run energy-efficiency programs.
The 446-page measure also would raise electricity rates statewide to save two Exelon-owned nuclear plants that the company says will close otherwise.
It would dramatically overhaul how Commonwealth Edison’s power-delivery rates are set, charging households and small businesses based on their usage during high-demand periods of the day rather than their overall consumption per month as happens now. Some rooftop solar-panel installers say that provision will kill any chance of household solar power taking off in Illinois.
Other key business interests are opponents as well, like the largest industrial consumers of power in Illinois and the Building Owners and Managers Association of Chicago (BOMA), which object to the costs the bill would impose on them. Opponents say with all the additions the bill will raise rates statewide by at least $24 billion through 2040. Supporters say cost savings due to a ramp-up in efficiency programs will mitigate those increases, but the opponents counter that the rate hikes are definite while the savings are projections.
“For office buildings, the two biggest expenses are property taxes and utility costs,” according to an analysis on the bill commissioned by BOMA. “Chicago continues to have among the highest commercial property tax burdens in the nation, providing a disincentive to locate staff in Illinois. (The bill) would significantly increase energy costs, thereby providing significant new downward pressure on commercial office building occupancy rates in Chicago.”
Said Exelon in an email: “These claims (of huge costs) are blatantly false, failing to acknowledge or factor in any of the benefits of the legislation. . . .The Future Energy Jobs Bill achieves several critical goals—jobs, clean energy, energy savings and greater grid security—at a modest increase of about 25 cents per month for the average ComEd residential customer.”
Another key opponent, said participants in the discussions: Ameren, which delivers electricity downstate. (An Ameren spokeswoman didn’t respond to an email requesting comment.)
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has been an ardent foe of the bill throughout its gestation as has AARP Illinois, which warns that seniors on fixed incomes will suffer.
Now, the Citizens Utility Board, which has been negotiating with Exelon and ComEd for months and had been generally supportive, can be counted among the opponents. Executive Director David Kolata, though, said this isn’t likely to be the final bill before it comes to a vote in the Legislature.
A WORK IN PROGRESS?
“The amendment contains very strong energy efficiency provisions and a real (renewable portfolio standard) fix,” he said. “There are still parts of it that need significant work. … In Springfield we all know things happen in stages, so we’ll see what happens.”
All of the opposition raises the odds against getting the energy bill passed by Exelon’s deadline of mid-December. That’s when Exelon said it will have to move forward with the closure of its money-losing Clinton nuclear plant. Likewise, it plans to shutter its Quad Cities nuclear plant in 2018 without financial support from the state.
So who does that leave as supporters? Exelon, of course, and its subsidiary ComEd.
Exelon said it was pleased to see the “forward momentum” on what it has dubbed the Future Energy Jobs Bill. “As with any piece of major legislation, it will continue to evolve as stakeholders weigh in. But at its core, we know the bill will bring significant benefits to consumers and the environment in Illinois.”