(The Center Square) – The parent company of a major utility that paid a $200 million fine after a bribery scandal is threatening to decommission nuclear power plants in Illinois, but a deal coming together at the statehouse could pay them off while forcing coal-fired plants to shut down early.
They haven’t turned the lights out for the summer at the state capitol quite yet. There’s expected to be an energy deal statehouse leaders say is needed.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Wednesday at an unrelated event in Rockford that he’s confident an energy deal that failed to advance before the spring session ended will come together in bill form for lawmakers to return “for a brief moment” to pass it.
“What I can tell you is that that deal will help keep all of the nuclear plants open which helps us with our clean energy plans for the future,” Pritzker said.
That deal could mean hundreds of millions in taxpayer subsidies for the nuclear energy sector.
Pritzker says he wants to end the use of all fossil fuels by 2050. There’s also a target of 2035 to shut down coal-fired power plants.
With an eye on saving jobs in her district, and ensuring the reliability of the state’s energy grid in the face of possible renewable energy mandates, state Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, hopes lawmakers return within the next two weeks to codify a verbal agreement.
“The reality is that renewables do not have the capacity to replace nuclear energy and will not have the capacity for over three decades,” “Without nuclear, any hope for a carbon-free future is greatly dampened.”
If a deal includes mandates to decommission coal-fired power plants, some could be left with debt for years beyond when they’d have to shut down.
One of those is municipally owned City Water Light and Power in Springfield. Chief engineer Doug Brown said shutting down their operations would leave their ratepayers on the hook for $100 million in bonds.
“And, it’s not even just the cost, it’s also the reliability, and the resiliency,” Brown told WMAY. “A lot of people don’t want to listen to utility experts right now for some reason, I don’t know why.”
Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, doesn’t expect any relief for the coal-fired power plants in a deal, but acknowledged the cloud of corruption over Exelon subsidiary ComEd.
Last summer, officials with ComEd entered an agreement with federal prosecutors to pay $200 million in fines for a bribery scheme implicating former House Speaker Michael Madigan. Several former ComEd officials have been charged in the case. One pleaded guilty and is cooperating.
Romanucci & Blandin LLC and DiCello Levitt Gutzler LLC have a pending class-action suit against ComEd over the bribery the utility admitted to in federal court documents. The attorneys say the $200 million fine is nowhere near the $17 billion they say is the true cost of the corruption scandal. They derived that figure by reviewing the rates they say ComEd got baked into the law in 2011.
A spokesperson for the utility said: “ComEd households pay less than they did nearly a decade ago and enjoy rates lower than customers in comparable U.S. cities. Regulators under three different governors have approved every dollar of ComEd’s investments in lengthy annual proceedings, and any claim that the investments did not benefit customers has no merit.”
Asked about the corruption cloud over Exelon because of its subsidiary ComEd, the Senate President said that has weighed on negotiations.
“Let’s be honest, that shadow has been cast over the entire energy negotiations, and we are acutely aware of that,” Harmon said. “At the same time, we are cognizant of the need for a reliable energy infrastructure in the state of Illinois.”
Some have signaled subsidies are on the way for the nuclear energy industry. Exelon said because of hundreds of millions in revenue shortfalls, they may have to close plants starting later this fall.
For lawmakers to return, the governor can call a special session. The Senate President can call the Senate back. The House Speaker can call the House back. Any measures with immediate effective dates require a supermajority.