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Renewable energy cheated in uneasy coalition with Exelon nuclear, in Illinois

How Pay-to-Play Politics and an Uneasy Coalition of Nuclear and Renewable Energy Led to a Flawed Illinois Law, Inside Climate News

State lawmakers are running out of time to fix 2016 clean energy legislation.

By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News and Brett Chase, Chicago Sun-TimesMay 21, 2021This article is the result of a partnership between Inside Climate News and the Chicago Sun-Times.

CHICAGO—Just over five years ago, the Illinois Legislature passed a plan that aimed to build a solar power industry from scratch while saving thousands of jobs at two struggling nuclear plants.

The Future Energy Jobs Act brought together environmental groups, the owner of the nuclear plants—Exelon Corp., unions and consumer advocates. The result was a plan marrying nuclear subsidies with support for renewable energy that purported to create tens of thousands of solar power jobs as well as put the state on track to move away from fossil fuels and meet its pre-existing target of having 25 percent renewable energy by 2025.

But the law sputtered from the start and now state leaders are racing to meet a May 31 legislative deadline to fix some of its biggest problems, like the impending loss of more than $300 million in funding for renewable energy programs. 

But the law sputtered from the start and now state leaders are racing to meet a May 31 legislative deadline to fix some of its biggest problems, like the impending loss of more than $300 million in funding for renewable energy programs. The 2025 target is far out of reach, the jobs expectations went unmet and the solar industry is laying off workers as promised funding dries up. 

Exelon emerged as a clear winner, receiving $2.3 billion in ratepayer-funded subsidies over a decade for its two plants. It is now demanding even more money and threatening to close two other nuclear plants if it doesn’t get it.

“Exelon continues to get $235 million a year, while the solar support has been stripped away,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center and a critic of the state’s nuclear bailout. “Illinois could’ve been a Midwest solar energy leader.”

Making the current scramble even more complicated is a federal bribery probe of Exelon and its Chicago utility subsidiary, Commonwealth Edison. Prosecutors say ComEd gave cash, jobs and contracts to associates of former House Speaker Michael Madigan with the hope he would shape the legislation to the company’s liking.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has said that Exelon will not dictate the terms of the current debate over how to fix the state’s energy law. But the company and its close allies in organized labor nonetheless have immense power in the Legislature.

Exelon is seeking subsidies for its four Illinois nuclear plants that didn’t get help in the 2016 law, and is saying that the Byron and Dresden nuclear plants will close without this aid.

Meanwhile, solar companies are laying off workers following the abrupt end of incentive funding tied to the 2016 law.

Supporters of the law talked about a boom in solar jobs, but the actual gains have been modest. Illinois went from 3,480 solar jobs in 2015, the 14th highest number in the country, to 5,259 jobs in 2020, which ranked 13th, according to the Solar Foundation.

While there were few new solar jobs, there has been a surge in the small-scale solar projects the law was designed to encourage, with more than 20,000 projects completed. But solar remains a blip in Illinois’ energy landscape, providing less than 1 percent of the state’s electricity generation in 2020.

Solar and wind energy have grown in Illinois, but renewable sources are only about 7.5 percent of the state’s electricity consumption, which is far short of the pace needed to reach the target of 25 percent by 2025…….

While there were few new solar jobs, there has been a surge in the small-scale solar projects the law was designed to encourage, with more than 20,000 projects completed. But solar remains a blip in Illinois’ energy landscape, providing less than 1 percent of the state’s electricity generation in 2020.

Solar and wind energy have grown in Illinois, but renewable sources are only about 7.5 percent of the state’s electricity consumption, which is far short of the pace needed to reach the target of 25 percent by 2025……..

A Nuclear Bailout Takes Shape

In 2016, Exelon was threatening to close the Clinton and Quad Cities power plants and wanted the Illinois General Assembly to pass a law that would require local utilities, including ComEd, to charge consumers for a 10-year subsidy for the plants.

The idea had the strong backing of Exelon’s allies in organized labor, but it was difficult to get lawmakers to agree to raise utility bills.

At the same time, environmental groups, clean energy business groups and environmental justice advocates had their own proposals.

Madigan, a Democrat who was the longtime speaker of the House, made clear that any clean energy proposals needed to go through Exelon and get added to their nuclear bailout, according to those closely involved with the process. Madigan, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment.

“Being able to pass clean energy legislation was conditioned by the speaker to reach agreement with ComEd and Exelon and labor,” said Jen Walling, executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council, which led the push for renewable energy provisions.

Walling, whose group represents more than 90 environmental and community groups across Illinois, said the political reality forced the environmental advocates to work with Exelon.

Pat Quinn, a Democrat who was governor from 2009 until he lost his bid for re-election in 2014, said the process was unseemly but typical for Exelon.

Exelon wanted “the renewable people to literally crawl to them,” Quinn said. “As long as they could hold up the renewables and the progressive stuff, they’d get more for themselves.”

Federal prosecutors later said that Exelon subsidiary ComEd’s actions at that time were more than just hardball politics. The company was part of a pay-to-play environment for energy legislation in the state, with ComEd giving cash, contracts and jobs to people connected to Madigan, according to a federal complaint. The investigation has led to indictments and a deferred prosecution agreement with ComEd.

ComEd’s Breymaier said the company has “substantially strengthened oversight and controls of its lobbying and hiring,” among other steps to prevent actions like those described by prosecutors…………  https://insideclimatenews.org/news/21052021/how-pay-to-play-politics-and-an-uneasy-coalition-of-nuclear-and-renewable-energy-led-to-a-flawed-illinois-law/

May 22, 2021 - Posted by | politics, renewable, secrets,lies and civil liberties, USA

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