SPRINGFIELD – Illinois lawmakers are staying open for business as they await a possible deal on a sweeping energy proposal that would keep the state’s fleet of nuclear power plants online while providing incentives for development of more wind and solar generation.
Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, issued a statement Tuesday saying he had been informed that a deal had been reached between Gov. JB Pritzker and Exelon, the parent company of Commonwealth Edison and the owner of six nuclear power plants in Illinois.
“I’m informed that an agreement has been reached between the governor and Exelon on a proposal that would save jobs, which has been our goal all along. That’s why we support the governor in these talks,” Harmon said. “We also stand with the governor on de-carbonization targets that need to be in a final deal.”
The statement came less than 24 hours after the House and Senate passed a $42.3 billion budget plan for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1. Passage of a budget is typically one of the last things lawmakers do before adjourning a legislative session.
This year, though, talks on an energy package were continuing behind closed doors even as lawmakers were working into the wee hours of the morning Tuesday to push through the budget package. After it passed, the House adjourned “until the call of the chair,” meaning it could be called back into session at any time, while the Senate scheduled another day of session for Tuesday.
“The Senate remained in session with the hope of voting on an agreement today [Tuesday],” Harmon said. “We stand ready to return to the Capitol when the governor’s plan is ready for action.”
Pritzker campaigned in 2018 on a pledge to shift Illinois’ electric energy industry more toward renewable and zero-emission sources, and he has set a goal of achieving a 100% non-carbon power system by 2050.
Achieving that goal, however, relies on keeping the state’s nuclear power fleet online, and Exelon has threatened to close two nuclear plants in Byron and Dresden that it says are unprofitable unless it receives subsidies to make them economically viable.
But many lawmakers have been skeptical of Exelon’s claims, in large part because of the company’s connection with ComEd. Last year, ComEd entered a deferred prosecution agreement with federal authorities in which the company admitted to engaging in a years-long bribery scheme that involved awarding jobs and contracts to close associates of former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan in order to gain his support for legislation favorable to the company.
At issue in the talks over an energy package is the question of how much of a subsidy the nuclear plants need, how long the subsidies should last, and how to phase out the state’s remaining coal- and gas-fired power plants while creating new energy-related jobs for the workers who would be displaced.
“That’s a complex issue,” House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, said during a 3 a.m. news conference shortly after the House adjourned early Tuesday. “And you know, we were close, and we’re going to continue to work on it, and hopefully, we’ll have something soon, because we were very close tonight.”
Meanwhile, Democrats were touting their achievements during the session on a range of other issues that included passage of a redistricting plan, an ethics reform bill, election changes, an affordable housing program, and new protections for immigrants in Illinois.
“We got a lot more to do but this was a great start,” Welch said during the news conference. “You guys have witnessed, I think, some important history here today.”
Republicans, on the other hand, remained harshly critical of what happened during the session, particularly with the budget and the redistricting plan, which was done despite the fact that the release of official census data has been delayed until mid-August at the earliest.
“Their priority is not the little guy,” House Minority Leader Jim Durkin said in a separate news conference Tuesday morning. “It’s not the little guy who lost out over the past year, that’s the small businessman who, it was determined, that they were not essential. The ones that had to shut down, they had to cut their workforce, the ones who barely kept their doors open. And where are they right now? They are not a priority for the House nor Senate Democrats.”