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Work out deal to empower Illinois’ energy future

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)


Last week, Gov. Bruce Rauner added energy policy to the list of political footballs being kicked around Springfield as he accused Democrats of ducking a “tough” vote on a bailout for Exelon.

That was unfortunate. As Rich Miller of Capitol Fax pointed out Friday, Rauner himself did nothing notable to push the Exelon bill in the spring legislation session that just ended, though he claimed afterward to have been “fighting hard” for the bailout for “quite a while.”

Here’s hoping Democratic and Republican legislators ignore the governor’s rhetoric keep working toward the most economical way to make Illinois a less carbon-intensive state. And here’s also hoping the governor joins that effort.

EDITORIAL

After starting far apart, Exelon, its subsidiary ComEd and the Clean Jobs Coalition — a group of businesses, environmental organizations and faith communities that support renewable energy — are within striking distance of a deal all parties can live with that would benefit the state. Illinois’ political leaders should nurture that effort, not drive the players farther apart to score political points.

After the official ending date of the legislative session passed on May 31 without a deal, Exelon upped the ante by saying it will file the formal paperwork to start the process of closing two of its nuclear power plants, the Clinton Power Station and the Quad Cities Generating Station. Exelon, which is profitable, did so because the Legislature didn’t give it a bailout. But consumer advocates are right to argue that if ratepayers fork over extra cash to Exelon because energy prices are low, making Clinton and Quad Cities uneconomical, they should get money back if energy prices shoot back up. Exelon isn’t entitled to a windfall.

It’s unclear how much time remains before the lengthy process of shutting down the nuclear plants goes beyond the point of no return, but there are at least several months. That time should be used for intensified and thoughtful negotiations, not name-calling. Many technical issues remain to be worked out.

The Clean Jobs Coalition wants to raise energy efficiency standards — which would save consumers money — and use the savings to help boost renewable energy in the state. It’s an idea that already has worked. In 2008, Illinois raised its energy efficiency standards, and consumers since then have saved more than $1 billion. Any legislative deal needs energy efficiency and renewable energy at its center.

If the attempt at compromise in Springfield blows up, the price tag for building a vibrant energy industry in Illinois and making the state environmentally friendly could be higher than it needs to be.
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