Amid coronavirus, another worry looming for Illinois

Electricity bills will shoot up for ratepayers, job opportunities would be lost and the environment would suffer enormous harm if the Legislature doesn’t act.

SHARE Amid coronavirus, another worry looming for Illinois
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Smoke rises from a coal-fired power plant in 2019 in Romeoville.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic has pushed many issues state lawmakers are facing to the back burner. The price of electricity shouldn’t be one of them.

That’s why we’re sounding this alarm that power bills for northern Illinois ratepayers will shoot up soon if the Legislature doesn’t act.

Last week, a company named PJM, which coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity in all or parts of 13 states and the District of Columbia, filed a so-called compliance plan under a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission order. The plan would have devastating consequences for Illinois consumers.

If nothing is done, power bills will soar for ratepayers, job opportunities will be lost and the environment will suffer enormous harm.

The Legislature can prevent that, though, by enacting legislation along the lines of the proposed Clean Energy Jobs Act. But it has to get the job done before the end of the current legislative session, and this is a complicated bill that has a lot of working parts.

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Because of the way energy markets work, if the Legislature misses this opportunity, it won’t get another crack at making a fix for years, possibly until 2025.

Billions of dollars would be shunted to fossil fuel-burning power plants, at least one nuclear power plant might shut down and the growth of renewable energy sources would be slowed to a trickle. If that happens, it would be very difficult to get back even to the point where we are now.

It would helpful if we had more time to deal with this when there are so many issues related to the coronavirus to consider. But we don’t.

Building on earlier legislation, the Clean Energy Jobs Act is designed to ramp up renewable energy, create jobs, assist economically challenged communities that are being hit hard by the effect of the coronavirus and aid workers who are losing their jobs as coal-fired plants close. The bill also would allow the Illinois Power Agency to take over the management of the state’s capacity market — a system set up to ensure states have enough energy capacity to meet peak loads. That would insulate Illinois from the Trump administration’s effort to favor fossils over renewables.

We know the governor and lawmakers have a lot on their plate right now. But the CEJA bill already was unnecessarily delayed when lawmakers thought they had plenty of time to deal with it.

They don’t anymore. The legislative session is set to end May 31.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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