Eye On Illinois: Another round of Exelon subsidies should force lasting reforms

Can this please be the last one?

Though we lack final details of energy legislation — a catch-all term that includes subsidies so Exelon won’t close nuclear plants — I’ve seen enough already to hope whatever gets approved is the last of its kind. That’ll only happen if lawmakers get serious about changing the state’s relationship with this corporate behemoth.

“Utilities did not write the bill that we have worked on. That is clear,” said Gov. JB Pritzker. That may technically be true, but the fact Exelon was negotiating with Pritzker’s office seems to indicate the utility has a direct seat at the table while energy customers and taxpayers must rely on politicians.

Few topics in Springfield appeal to so many different constituencies. Republicans like Rep. David Welter and Sen. Sue Rezin, both Morris residents, crusade to keep nuclear plants open because they represent thousands of high-end jobs and ease property tax burdens on nearly everyone else. Labor unions, typically not aligned with the GOP, join the fight because many members have lucrative careers. Some proponents, unmoved by taxes or jobs, come to the table with a chief concern of moving the state away from fossil fuels.

Keeping nuke plants open is widely popular. But so are affordable utility bills, and it’s impossible to shake the fact Exelon is a Fortune 100 publicly traded company serving shareholders at least as much as its energy customers. Some taxpayers write ComEd a check every month and watch Springfield sign off on hundreds of millions in incentives. Yet customers of different utilities nonetheless contribute to Exelon’s long-term profitability.

Exelon subsidies are only part of energy legislation, a point underscored by the likes of Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, who fought for carveouts for municipal utilities that might have to pay outstanding bond debt on facilities the state wants shuttered by 2035.

Every time I write about Exelon my inbox fills with readers airing justified grievances about incentives for wind, solar and other alternative power sources that further cloud how much we’re all actually paying for both our power today and a long-term strategy. A new round of legislation is unlikely to add clarity.

“We have done everything that we can to stand up for clean energy principles, to make sure that we’re expanding renewables in the state,” Pritzker continued. “I have set out the principles, I have stuck to those principles, and so my hope is that we’ll end up with a good energy bill.”

My hope is that, while the ink dries, Pritzker restarts discussions on policies that ensure we won’t be back here in another few years while Exelon threatens to close different facilities.

Most taxpayers can’t live without electricity. Yet we remain powerless.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Local News Network. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.