A recent op-ed by the Illinois Citizens Utility Board suggested that the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA) is necessary to prevent unprecedented rate hikes in Illinois. The Illinois Chamber of Commerce has been concerned with that perspective for a variety of known reasons, most notably because it is a false narrative and not backed up by fact.
First, advocates continue to trot out this false $864 million dollar increase to our energy costs, despite the fact that they know, or should know, that this number is not real. It is based on an energy market proposal that federal energy regulators declined to accept and is therefore not even relevant to the circumstances we find ourselves in today.
More importantly, what CEJA advocates may not recognize about their bill, in addition to the sheer cost, is the severe threat to electric reliability that could result from its passage. Electric reliability is the guarantee that we can turn the lights on, watch Netflix, power our manufacturing sector, and allow for life-saving medical equipment to operate.
If CEJA passes, it has the potential of shuttering Illinois’ nuclear fleet because the bill requires electricity prices to be reduced by five percent under today’s prices. That may sound great, but Exelon has made it clear that its nuclear plants are not profitable under today’s revenue levels and may retire those facilities. If CEJA drops prices five percent, would Exelon have no choice but to close its nuclear plants?
CEJA also mandates that all fossil fuel facilities must shutter by 2030, leaving Illinois in a situation with a majority of its generation gone due to CEJA. Ultimately, electricity must come from somewhere. The Illinois Chamber hopes that the Illinois General Assembly would not support a bill that results in our state having to import electricity and support jobs in Indiana and Kentucky just to keep the lights on at home. Again, if CEJA passes, gone are Illinois’ high-paying jobs from those facilities that support local communities through a steady tax base and economic activity.
When the companies that develop, finance, or operate electricity in Illinois are not included in drafting legislation, the realities of the industry and how the system operates are often missed. Illinois needs to take another look at energy policy. The state can support the growth of lower emission energy resources while balancing the hit to ratepayer bills. CEJA is just not it.
We encourage the Illinois General Assembly to recognize that to be effective and impactful, technologies of all kinds play a role in the development of resources that can help lower emissions. Among them are renewable energy production, energy efficiency, battery storage solutions but also low-carbon technologies, carbon capture and sequestration, high-efficiency low-emission power plants, and others.
It will be largely up to the business community to develop, finance, build, and operate the solutions needed to power economic growth worldwide, mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, and build resilient, lower-carbon infrastructure. The Chamber encourages the Illinois General Assembly to recognize that the solutions and realities are much broader than what CEJA proposes.
There is much common ground on which all sides of this discussion can come together with policies that are practical, flexible, predictable, and durable. But it is imperative that policy approach also consider costs, benefits, and the competitiveness of the U.S. and Illinois economy.
Alex Messina is the executive director of the Energy Council at the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.