8/5/15 – New environmental rules renew push for Illinois Clean Jobs Bill

CHICAGO SUN TIMES

http://chicago.suntimes.com/news/7/71/854951/energy-rules-illinois-clean-jobs

Mitch Dudek, Chicago Sun-Times

August 5, 2015

Hoping to piggyback off the momentum of President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley and other elected officials gathered Wednesday in the Loop to promote a state bill that sponsors say will help Illinois meet its environmental goals

The Illinois Clean Jobs Bill, introduced in Springfield last year, calls for improved energy efficiency and for 35 percent of state power to come from renewable energy by 2030. The bill, proponents claims, will bring the state into compliance with new federal regulations.

Obama’s Clean Power Plan, laid out Monday by the Environmental Protection Agency, calls on all states to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from energy plants to levels 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

“By implementing policies like the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill and Clean Power Plan that promotes job creation, innovation and competition on the state and federal level, our clean energy sector can finally realize its potential,” said Quigley, D-Ill.

Illinois has until 2018 to come up with a final plan to reach the federal goals.

The Clean Jobs Bill is one of the several pieces of energy-related legislation before the state Legislature that would affect Illinois’ ultimate proposal.

Obama’s plan is expected to face legal and political challenges, but David Kolata, executive director of consumer watchdog Citizens Utility Board, views the Clean Power Plan as “an opportunity for Illinois consumers.”

“If Illinois does what it should, consumer bills should go down by at least $100 a year by the time the plan is implemented,” said Kolata, a promoter of the Clean Jobs Bill as a catalyst to meet federal limits.

But any future blueprints the state draws up to meet federal limits on carbon emissions will also have to take into account whether Exelon closes three nuclear power plants in Illinois that the company claims are economically distressed.

The nuclear plants emit zero carbon. If they close, the clean energy they provided will most likely be replaced by carbon-emitting sources of power, such as natural gas or coal, Morningstar analyst Charles Fishman said.

About half of Illinois’ electricity comes from nuclear power.

“The retirement of the nuclear plants is very possible,” Fishman said. “And if that happens, it will be a taller hurdle for Illinois to achieve this thing than if the plants stay online.”

One main issue for the nuclear plants: competing against cheap natural gas in Illinois’ free market energy economy.

Coal-burning plants are undoubtedly the loser under the new federal rules, Fishman said. But favorable terms were not extended equally throughout the nuclear industry.

Under the federal plan, new reactors — like ones being built in Tennessee, South Carolina and Georgia — would count more toward meeting emissions limits. But existing reactors — like the three Exelon might close — won’t qualify for such extra credit.

Exelon owns ComEd, which supplies power to Northern Illinois.