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Pritzker’s energy bill seeks to spark clean energy in the future and escape dirty politics of the past

The Consumers and Climate First Act addresses ethics and consumer protections as well as renewable energy and clean power. It also seeks to address how the state plans to help those who lose their jobs as Illinois shifts away from non-renewable energy sources.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at a news conference in Springfield in 2019.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at a news conference in Springfield in 2019.
Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP file

Gov. J.B. Pritzker is set to unveil his own sweeping climate and energy legislation Thursday, ending formula rates and online payment fees as the state moves towards 100% clean energy by 2050 and away from “the old ‘pay-to-play politics’ of the past.”

The Consumers and Climate First Act addresses ethics and consumer protections as well as renewable energy and clean power. It also seeks to address how the state plans to help those who lose their jobs as Illinois shifts away from non-renewable energy sources.

Pritzker’s bill would end formula rates, a practice of utility companies being able to “spend ratepayer money with little oversight, meaning ComEd and Ameren, will no longer be able to dramatically increase their profits by loading up the rate base with little cost control,” according to a summary of the bill.

The legislation also would expand the statement of economic interest that legislators must file to include any spouse or immediate family member who is employed by a public utility in Illinois and would make the Citizens Utility Board subject to requests under the Freedom of Information Act and prohibit that board from accepting funds from foundations affiliated with a public utility, according to the bill’s summary.

Deputy Gov. Christian Mitchell said Pritzker believes “this is the right bill at the right time.”

It comes some nine months after a federal court bombshell that implicated Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan as a key figure in a sprawling bribery scheme outlined in federal charges against ComEd.

Madigan has not been charged with any crime and denies any wrongdoing, but the power company scandal short-circuited the Southwest Side Democrat’s long political career.

“I think that in the wake of a deferred prosecution agreement that has ensnared our largest utility … that having a piece of legislation that leads with ethics, ends the old ‘pay-to-play politics’ of the past, invests in renewable energy in a way that puts equity and good labor standards right front and center” sends a signal that the state is “going to be a great place to do business,” Mitchell said.

Deputy Gov. Christian Mitchell.
Deputy Gov. Christian Mitchell.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

The bill is the latest to address the state’s energy sector, joining the proposed Clean Energy Jobs Act — which also calls for the state to use 100% renewable energy by 2050 and creates incentives for companies to transition to do so — and the “Path to 100” Act, which is aimed at creating jobs within the state’s renewable energy industry.

Mitchell said the governor’s plan includes pieces of those proposals, as well as recommendations from legislators. He said the plan now is to work “cooperatively and collaboratively” with the Legislature on the energy bills.

Pritzker’s legislation also seeks to help energy consumers and includes eliminating online payment fees for all utility bills and would eliminate the customer deposit requirement and late fees for low-income residential utility customers. Those with incomes that fall at or below 80% of their area median income would be able to receive tiered discount rates on their utility bills.

The legislation also looks ahead, seeking to put the state on a path toward 100% clean energy by 2050. It also entails a phasing out of coal by 2030 and natural gas by 2045, according to the summary. Along with that push, Pritzker’s legislation aims to increase the adoption of electric vehicles in the state to 1 million by 2030.

The governor’s bill would create a displaced “worker bill of rights” to support energy sector workers as the state moves to renewable energy.

Last July, ComEd was charged in federal court in an alleged bribery scheme that prosecutors say sent $1.3 million to Madigan’s associates for doing little or no work for the utility, all while ComEd hoped to land the once powerful speaker’s support for legislation in Springfield worth more than $150 million.

Former Speaker Mike Madigan speaks during a meeting in February to decide who will take over his seat in the Illinois House.
Former Speaker Mike Madigan speaks during a meeting in February to decide who will take over his seat in the Illinois House.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

Mitchell said the scandal showed the “shady practices of our utility companies in terms of how they operate in Springfield,” an awareness that has seeped into the Legislature and driven the governor and his team to create a bill “that would help restore ratepayer confidence.”

Mitchell said the bill aims to “end the backroom deals that have led to a place where Commonwealth Edison drives up their profits at the expense of consumer bills and does so in a way that lands it in federal court.”

“We are investing in the kinds of things, like electric vehicles, that are going to create good, clean jobs that are high paying, including for people of color around the state of Illinois, in a way that is going to help make sure that we’ve got clean air to breathe and clean water to drink,” Mitchell said.