By Dan Petrella
SPRINGFIELD — The debate over Illinois’ new energy policy has focused largely on whether utility customers, from individual families to large industrial companies, should pay billions of dollars to subsidize two unprofitable nuclear plants owned by a highly profitable corporation.
But supporters say the argument about the $235 million in annual subsidies Exelon Corp. is eligible to receive in exchange for keeping open the Clinton and Quad Cities plants for another 10 years has overshadowed the legislation’s long-term environmental and climate benefits.
At a bill-signing ceremony last week at Clinton High School, Jennifer Walling, executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council that represents more than 80 organizations across the state, hailed the new law as “the most significant piece of climate and clean energy policy in Illinois’ history.”…
…The fact that the legislation cleared the General Assembly with bipartisan support and landed on Gov. Bruce Rauner’s desk was due in large part to an unconventional alliance between a Fortune 100 energy company and a coalition of environmental and consumer groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and the Citizens Utility Board.
“This partnership and coming together is an example of how big policy should get done in Springfield,” Walling said.
Environmental, labor, religious and business organizations joined forces nearly two years ago to form the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition to fix flaws in the state’s “renewable portfolio standard,” which under a previous law set a goal of producing 25 percent of the state’s power through renewable sources, such as wind and solar, by 2025.
Long at odds with Exelon, the two joined forces this fall to support the new law, which takes effect June 1.
Because of the way the old law was written, development of new wind farms and other renewable energy projects has been stalled in Illinois for several years.
Meanwhile, money Illinoisans paid on their power bills was going to out-of-state projects.
The law is expected to spur 3,000 megawatts of new solar projects and 1,300 megawatts of new wind projects in Illinois, enough to power nearly 1 million homes, wrote Nick Magrisso, Midwest legislative director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a blog post summarizing the legislation’s environmental benefits.
Included are programs to allow people who aren’t able to install their own rooftop solar panels to subscribe to community projects in their neighborhoods. Another provision, the Illinois Solar for All Program, is designed to encourage development in low-income neighborhoods and to provide job training in those communities.
Spending on energy-efficiency programs, such as home weatherization and rebates for energy-saving appliances, also will increase.
Exelon subsidiary Commonwealth Edison will spend up to $400 million annually in its northern Illinois service territory, and Ameren Illinois will spend an average of $108 million annually downstate.
ComEd will be required to cut its northern Illinois customers’ energy demand by 21.5 percent by 2030, and Ameren will have to reduce demand among its downstate customers by 16 percent by the same deadline. There are financial incentives if the companies exceed their annual reduction targets, and penalties if they miss them.
David Kolata, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board, said residents will benefit from increased spending on energy efficiency regardless of whether they take part in the utilities’ programs: lower demand for energy will lead to lower prices for everyone, he said….