Exelon bailout's true value for consumers unclear
Legislation that will keep two nuclear power plants open, save more than 4,000 jobs and increase electric bills received Gov. Bruce Rauner's signature after it passed the General Assembly.
Rauner publicly signed the Future Energy Jobs Bill, SB2814, at Riverdale High School in Port Bryon in front of a large crowd that included local legislators and city leaders.
However, the bill has not been without controversy leading up to the Rauner's signing.
"It had been derided by a lot of people simply as a bailout for a very profitable, billion-dollar generating company," Matt Dietrich, host of Reboot Illinois' "Only in Illinois," said shortly after the bill's passage in the state Senate. "However, I would imagine that right now in the Quad Cities and in Clinton, Illinois, where two nuclear plants are going to stay open if the governor signs this bill, you probably have a lot of people breathing easy."
Dietrich made his comments during a conversation with NPR Illinois Reporter Amanda Vinicky during a recent edition of "Only in Illinois."
Passage of the Future Energy Jobs Bill by the House and Senate on the same day, Dec. 1, ended months of retooling on the legislation, which covers a wide variety of energy issues. It has been spotlighted for its role in keeping the Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear plants open, though the highly complex legislation strongly favors Chicago-based Exelon and its utility subsidiary, Commonwealth Edison, or ComEd.
Exelon said in June that it would close the Clinton plant next summer and the Quad Cities facility a year later if this legislation didn't pass. The energy-generating company has said this bill would save 4,200 jobs, preserve $1.2 billion in economic activity annually and double energy-efficiency programs to create $4 billion in energy savings. Exelon also said the bill will accelerate development of renewable energy and provide $750 million in funding for low-income programs.
Exelon also said competitive rates would be preserved and that keeping the plants open would prevent cost increases that would occur if the two plants were closed, but that's just not so, Vinicky said.
"There's some that argue that Illinois consumers and customers of energy would be paying more if these two nuclear plants in Clinton and Quad Cities were taken off the grid because, just supply and demand, there'd be less electricity for us to buy," Vinicky said. "But by and large, no, this is going to result in an increase in your bills."
Vinicky referred to Exelon as the most energetic lobbying entity in the Capitol since the bill was introduced into the General Assembly last winter.
"I think you could say Exelon and ComEd -- they, of course, are separate companies, but they share a lot of things, let's say," she said. "But also, it's unions. It is these two areas. You had Republicans that are on board with it because it's in their districts -- the governor, once he gave assurances that he would sign it. Also, a lot of support came from the renewable energy industry because it does something that they've been asking for a while and that's a fix of the renewable portfolio standard."
The bill took on a number of forms and changes in that time, including amendments added shortly before the vote.
"It is very complicated," Vinicky said. "You had a lot of legislators who knew this inside and out who were still confused about what was and was not in the legislation. Again, I think that speaks really, too, there's been a long relationship between Exelon and legislators. They do give a lot of money to political campaigns. Those are elements we can't ignore."
And while consumers may not like their higher energy bills, they may decide it's worth the extra cost, Vinicky said.
"And again, paid for, actually, by consumers, but for energy efficiency," she said.