Until last week, a thick coat of smog blackened legislation to salvage Exelon's nuclear plants in Cordova and Clinton, Illinois. But no more.
For the good of the environment and Quad-City economy, Illinois General Assembly must, this week, ram through the Exelon bailout.
The initial draft that, earlier this month, went before the House Energy Committee, was a poster-child for everything wrong with Illinois politics. It became a catch-all for far-flung legislators hoping to bring some pork home to their districts. The wish list piled and with it the price tag. In one instance, downstate lawmakers wanted bailouts for failing coal-fired plants operated by Dynegy. Political necessity gutted any semblance of environmental stewardship that, for many, made the Exelon bailout palatable. Otherwise supportive green groups bristled and the very coalition that would carry the bill through completion began to fracture.
But, finally, Gov. Bruce Rauner stepped up and weighed in. He correctly questioned the new rate structure Exelon hoped to impose on businesses throughout Illinois. Finally, the pro-coal lobby backed off with its carbon-pumping demands that, in a very real sense, robbed the bill of the "clean energy" label it so desperately needs for broad support. Finally, Exelon reworked its draconian billing proposal that would have further hindered economic development throughout northern Illinois. Finally, the Exelon bailout is what it always should have been: A zero-emissions bill that would save jobs and millions in tax revenue for local governments.
Finally, they got it right.
In August, New York state regulators approved something similar to what Exelon's pitching in Illinois. State subsidies were traded for assurances of continued operation and even nuclear expansion. New York officials recognized the importance of nuclear in the clean energy portfolio. They saw the inconsistency of wind and solar, which only work during ideal conditions. They watched as, in 2014, radical environmentalists in Vermont forced the closure of Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, causing an instant spike in that state's carbon emissions as coal filled in the vacated space in the market. They reacted to growing energy demands and the need for substantial new investment in half-century old nuclear plants.
New York struck a deal that will increase the statewide nuclear footprint. It will offset the imbalanced market forces that subsidize less consistent sources, such as wind and solar. It realized the environmental pitfalls of cheap natural gas that's undermining nuclear.
Illinois should follow suit. Axing Dynegy, in a very real way, makes it a “clean energy” bill. At least on the emissions side.
Rock Island County can't afford the loss of 800 high-paying jobs. Its school districts can't bleed millions in property tax revenue. Illinois can't turn its back on a massive source of zero-emission energy. The state can't endorse what would be an expansion of coal in the name of political optics.
There's something particularly distasteful about bailing out profitable companies. But, in the long-term, failing to do so would set the Quad-Cities and Illinois as a whole back decades. The already submitted pre-decommissioning filings to federal regulatory agencies prove that Exelon isn't bluffing.
Gov. Bruce Rauner has staked his reputation on job creation. General Assembly Democrats cling to unions and environmental issues.
The Exelon bailout furthers all of those goals. It protects jobs and local governments. It prevents yet another exodus of workers. It assures that water vapor is pumped into the atmosphere instead of greenhouse gases. It positions Exelon to expand its footprint in the market, while granting nuclear the benefits offered to other "green" energy sources.
This week is make or break for the Quad-City nuclear plant. Illinois General Assembly has three days to review the amended draft and force it through both houses.
Get it done.