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Illinois governor signs energy bill to keep nuclear plants open, boost renewables

On Dec. 7, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a broad energy bill that will, among other things, keep a pair of nuclear power plants operating in the state for the next 10 years. The measure, which will go into effect next summer, also will give a boost to energy efficiency and renewable energy efforts in Illinois.

Senate Bill 2814, called the Future Energy Jobs Bill, will create a zero emission standard, or ZES, designed to avert the retirement of Exelon's financially troubled nuclear power plants in Clinton and Quad Cities. The ZES will provide compensation for the plants by accounting for the social cost of carbon dioxide emissions. The nuclear plants will be reimbursed for their lack of emissions.

"While this legislation isn't perfect, it allows us to protect jobs, ratepayers and taxpayers," Gov. Rauner said in a Dec. 7 news release.

The bill "ensures the Clinton and Quad Cities power facilities remain open for another 10 years," according to the news release. "It contains a guaranteed cap that energy prices cannot increase more than 25 cents [per month] on the average residential home, and cannot increase more than 1.3 percent on commercial and industrial users over the next 10 years."

It also "promotes unprecedented wind and solar expansion and preserves zero-emission generation, maintaining Illinois' status in leading the nation in zero-carbon generation," said the news release from the governor's office.

The Illinois Commerce Commission conducted an analysis of the bill that shows the measure "not only provides true caps to protect and limit customer rate impacts, but also includes several methods by which the ICC can enforce these caps," said ICC Chairman Brien Sheahan. "We are confident in our ability to oversee the charge this legislation creates for our agency."

CUB: ‘Big win for consumers'

"This is a big win for consumers," said Dave Kolata, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board, or CUB. "It's Economics 101 — reducing demand for electricity also reduces the price. Illinois already enjoys some of the lowest rates in the nation because of energy efficiency, and this bill will drive further savings to homeowners."

According to a CUB analysis, residential consumers "will enjoy at least $4 billion in lower electric bills over the lifetime of the law, which also imposes a cap limiting bill increases to no more than 25-35 cents a month while savings from efficiency ramp up," said the news release.

The bill passed the Illinois legislature on Dec. 1.