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Illinois lawmakers approve Exelon energy bill on final day of veto session
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Illinois lawmakers approve Exelon energy bill on final day of veto session

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The vote

SPRINGFIELD — The holidays will be much happier for families of 1,500 workers at Exelon Corp.’s Clinton and Quad-Cities nuclear power plants after the Illinois General Assembly voted Thursday to approve an energy policy overhaul that will keep the plants open for another decade.

On the final day of the fall veto session, the House voted 63-38 and the Senate voted 32-18 in favor of a massive package that will funnel $235 million in annual ratepayer subsidies to the unprofitable nuclear power plants and increase investments in renewable power and energy efficiency. Gov. Bruce Rauner said he will sign the bill when it reaches his desk.

“For jobs, for ratepayers, for the state of Illinois, this is a good bill,” Sen. Neil Anderson, R-Rock Island, said when the bill came to the upper chamber Thursday evening.

Exelon had said it would take official steps toward shutting down the Clinton plant on June 1 if lawmakers didn’t approve the bill during the veto session. The Quad-City plant, in Cordova, was set to close a year later.

The Cordova facility employs about 800 people and is Rock Island County's largest real estate taxpayer.

After the proposal passed out of a House committee Wednesday with apparent agreement from the Rauner administration, it appeared headed for passage. But lawmakers were kept waiting for several hours Thursday as amendments were drafted to address last-minute concerns from the administration.

Among other changes, one amendment removed language that would have guaranteed union-level wages for workers on projects funded through the legislation, and another delayed the effective date to June 1 to lower the vote total needed to pass the bill. Bills passed in the veto session that take effect immediately need three-fifths majorities in both chambers.

Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, who also represents the Clinton plant and sponsored the legislation in the Senate, said passage appeared uncertain for much of the day. Rose credited Rauner for getting involved in negotiations over the last two weeks, which he said ended up producing a stronger bill.

After the administration weighed in, Exelon dropped a controversial proposal to change the way customers are charged for their power.

The so-called “demand charge,” based on a monthly average of peak demand rather than overall consumption, drew widespread criticism from consumer groups and the Illinois attorney general’s office. Critics said it could have created unpredictable bill spikes.

“The biggest brick on this bill was that demand charge because … there was no defense to it, frankly,” Rose said, adding that it wouldn’t have come out without Rauner’s involvement.

He and Anderson also credited the administration for pushing for rate caps to limit the cost for customers.

Representative os Exelon subsidiary Commonwealth Edison estimate that the entire package will result in an average monthly bill increase of less than 25 cents for residential customers in northern Illinois over a 13-year period. The bill caps the increase at that level.

Ameren Illinois, meanwhile, estimates that its downstate residential customers will see a 12-cent increase on average. The average increase over the 13-year period is capped at 35 cents for Ameren customers.

In the end, the measure passed with bipartisan support.

Rep. Mike Smiddy, D-Hillsdale, said it will provide an economic boost to his district and the state.

Smiddy, who lost a re-election bid last month, added that it was meaningful to see the bill passed before he departs.

“Going out on this legislation is something I can hang my hat on,” he said.

However, the bill also faced strong opposition from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, many of whom viewed it as a bailout for a profitable corporation. The bill faced intense opposition from some business groups, including the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association and other large energy users.

The Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition, made up of environmental and consumer groups, praised the bill’s passage.

“This bill includes elements of difficult compromise, but ultimately this is a tremendous victory for Illinois,” the coalition said in a prepared statement. “We commend members of the General Assembly from both sides of the aisle for their passage of the bill and we urge Governor Rauner to sign it to jump start Illinois’ clean energy economy.”

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