SPRINGFIELD — A state senator from Chicago plans to use the General Assembly’s upcoming fall veto session to continue pushing legislation that Exelon Corp. says is essential to the future of its financially struggling Quad-Cities and Clinton nuclear power plants.
Sen. Donne Trotter, a Democrat, made the statement Tuesday in Chicago during a forum on Illinois’ nuclear energy industry hosted by the University of Illinois’ nuclear engineering department and the Illinois AFL-CIO. The event, titled “Nuclear Power: What it Means in Illinois,” included officials from the U.S. Department of Energy, representatives from organized labor, federal and state lawmakers, local officials and other experts.
After Illinois lawmakers ended their regular spring legislative session without approving Exelon’s proposed “Next Generation Energy Plan,” the Chicago-based company announced that it would move forward with plans to shutter the Clinton Power Station next year and the Quad-Cities Generating Station in June 2018.
But Trotter and other sponsors of the legislation, including Republican state Sens. Chapin Rose of Mahomet and Neil Anderson of Rock Island, say negotiations with Exelon, environmental and consumer groups, the renewable energy industry and downstate utility Ameren Illinois have continued in the intervening months.
“It’s coming together, and hopefully by the time we get back on Nov. 15, there’ll be enough consensus that we can move forward with it and get it through the Senate as well as the House,” Trotter said, noting that some House members were in attendance and that House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, made a brief appearance.
Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said the speaker is waiting to review the final version of the legislation before taking a position.
Exelon, which has lost a combined $800 million on the two plants over the past seven years, says the state’s current energy policy doesn’t properly value the “economic, environmental and reliability benefits” of nuclear power. It’s seeking subsidies for its nuclear operations similar to those given to the wind and solar energy industries.
Experts who spoke at Tuesday’s forum said nuclear power, which doesn’t produce greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, will be a key component in helping the United States achieve its goal of reducing carbon emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.
“Sustaining the current fleet of nuclear power plants and building new nuclear capacity can play an important role in meeting this goal and is also critical if the U.S. is to maintain its global leadership as the world looks to nuclear power to meet its clean energy needs,” said John Kotek, acting secretary for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy.
Nuclear power, which accounts for about 60 percent of the carbon-free energy generated nationwide, “is responsible for avoiding hundreds of millions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions that would be released each year if we had to rely on fossil-fuel generation for that electricity,” Kotek said, noting that the Energy Department doesn’t take a position on specific state-level proposals.
Union officials, including Lonnie Stephenson, a Rock Island native who is international president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, spoke of the important role the Clinton and Quad-City plants play in their communities by providing high-paying jobs for highly skilled workers.
That message was echoed by Clinton City Administrator Tim Followell and Henry Marquard, director of government affairs for the Quad-Cities Chamber of Commerce.
The plants also are primary sources of property tax revenue for their communities, officials said.
Marquard added that if energy prices rise as a result of the Quad-City plant shutting down, “there’s no doubt at all” that manufacturers will leave the area.
Rose, whose Senate district includes the Clinton plant, told attendees, “We are here today because the state of Illinois is facing a generational choice.”
That choice is between a clean, reliable source of power and an uncertain future of possible energy price increases, he said.
Opponents of the legislation have argued that some of its provisions could cause unpredictable fluctuations in consumers’ energy bills and harm burgeoning renewable energy businesses. Some critics also call it a bailout for a profitable corporation.