By Tom Kacich
Posted Sat, 05/21/2016 – 7:00am
SPRINGFIELD — Ameren Illinois, environmental and consumer groups say, should embrace energy efficiency and rate structure proposals included in Exelon Corporation’s proposed Next Generation energy plan.
Exelon said its legislation would result in cleaner air, greater energy efficiency, more solar energy use and the preservation of more than 1,000 jobs at the Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear plants.
The legislation also would mean higher rates for all electric customers in Illinois, an amount Exelon has estimated at 25 cents a month for the typical residential customer.
But few of the accompanying benefits, the environmental groups said Friday, would flow to Ameren customers in central and southern Illinois.
“The bottom line is that customers downstate are left holding the bag for the cost, and they’re not getting the benefits or the savings,” said Nick Magrisso, Midwest legislative director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Jack Darin, director of the Illinois Sierra Club, said Ameren “has been involved in these discussions to an extent and we have been exploring the potential and willingness of Ameren to develop a similar program. So far those discussions haven’t borne fruit.”
David Kolata, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board, told the Senate Energy Committee Thursday in Springfield that he hoped Ameren customers could be included in the Exelon legislation.
“We need to make sure that the benefits, the cost-saving benefits and job creation benefits and energy efficiency are in all parts of the state including in central and southern Illinois,” Kolata said.
No one from Ameren Illinois testified during the lengthy Senate hearing Thursday, although company spokesman Tucker Kennedy said representatives of the utility were there and “were prepared to testify if asked.”
“Ameren Illinois is still considering customer cost impacts for the entire bill, including the zero emissions charge. We support many of the provisions of the legislation, but we must consider the effect the entire package will have on our customers,” Kennedy said. “Ameren Illinois will continue to be involved with talks as this legislation moves forward.”
Kennedy said Ameren Ilinois “sent a proposal to the Clean Jobs Coalition last week (a group that includes the NRDC, the Sierra Club and CUB) and they failed to attend a meeting scheduled (Thursday) in Springfield.”
Commonwealth Edison customers could save as much as $4 billion in energy costs over the next 10 years under the legislation, the environmental groups say. And the utility says that $1 billion would be available for low-income energy efficiency assistance as well as $140 million a year for solar energy development, including community solar programs.
“I can say with absolute certainty that the savings potential in Ameren is just as significant as the opportunities that Com Ed is certainly taking advantage of for their customers,” said Magrisso.
He called Ameren’s refusal so far to embrace the proposals “inexplicable. Not only are they leaving savings on the table for their customers but there’s an opportunity for Ameren Illinois to actually make the kind of investments that are good for their business.”
Darin said the business, environmental and consumer groups negotiating with the utility companies have been meeting almost weekly since last September and “are making progress.”
But he declined to say whether he thought the sides could reach an agreement by the May 31 deadline suggested by Exelon. Among the items being negotiated is the continued operation of Exelon’s Clinton nuclear power plant and its 700 jobs. The Clinton plant is about 30 miles west of Champaign in DeWitt County.
“Whether or not action is possible by the supposed adjournment date of the Legislature, May 31, is obviously uncertain,” Darin said. “Obviously Springfield has a lot of problems right now. We are hoping that this is one thing Springfield can get right, given all the benefits that a strong piece of legislation can offer the entire state of Illinois.”