By Dan Patrella | Chicago Tribune
Backers of a plan to move Illinois to 100% renewable power by 2050 say a recent decision by federal regulators could increase electric bills for the average Commonwealth Edison customer by about $5 per month, giving new urgency to their push for an overhaul of state energy policy.
The Clean Energy Jobs Act was introduced in the state legislature last year but took a back seat to other high-profile issues — such as marijuana legalization, gambling expansion and a massive infrastructure program — that dominated Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s first session. With the cloud of a federal investigation hanging over both ComEd and the State Capitol, the legislation’s prospects this year remain uncertain.
But advocates say if lawmakers don’t act, a December decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission would increase ComEd customers’ power bills by $864 million.
Seeking to offset state subsidies that lower the cost of renewable energy, the commission, whose members are appointed by President Donald Trump, issued new rules for how customers of ComEd and other utilities in the region pay for future energy capacity.
The commission said the move was meant to level the playing field among different energy sources, but advocates say it will give a boost to the coal industry at the expense of states like Illinois that maintain nuclear power plants and have enacted policies to encourage development of renewable sources.
“This plan would force Illinois consumers to pay more for dirty power we don’t need,” Citizens Utility Board Executive Director David Kolata said Monday at a news conference in the Loop.
A spokesman for the Federal Energy Regulator Commission declined to comment, pointing to a previous statement from Chairman Neil Chatterjee: “Competition, not subsidies, should be the engine of our energy economy.”
State Rep. Ann Williams said Illinois lawmakers need to pass comprehensive energy legislation during the spring legislative session, which begins Jan. 28, in order to prevent a cost increase for consumers and protect the environment.
“We can take action right here in Illinois, this legislative session to control our energy future,” the Chicago Democrat said.
Williams is the House sponsor of the Clean Energy Jobs Act, which among other changes would put the state in charge of overseeing energy capacity in Illinois, negating the effects of the federal decision.
Castro added: “In the past, utilities used to drive that. No more. We drive that.”
Castro said backers of the legislation are scheduled to meet with the Pritzker administration this week “to start negotiating what a bill would look like.”
Gov. J.B. Pritzker supports a shift to renewable energy and will work with legislators toward that goal, spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said.