Illinois Clean Energy Bill Also Overshadows Nuclear Power


Steam escapes from the Exelon nuclear power plant in Byron, Illinois.

Steam escapes from the Exelon nuclear power plant in Byron, Illinois.
Photo: Robert ray (PA)

Illinois passed one of the nation’s most aggressive clean energy bills on Monday, a smash hit for conservationists who, exceptionally, is also bailing out some of the state’s largest clean energy sources : nuclear energy.

The bill, known as the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, passed the Senate on Monday by 37 to 17 votes and is headed to the office of Illinois Governor JB Pritzker for signature. Pritzker tweeted his praise for the bill Monday and said he “look[ed] looking forward to signing the law. In his declaration When the bill passed, Joe Duffy, executive director of Climate Jobs Illinois, a coalition of labor organizations that advocated for the bill, called it “the most worker-friendly legislation and to the country’s climate ”.

The huge (nearly 1,000 pages) invoice reads like a wish list for much of the modern environmental movement. It mandates the closure of coal and natural gas power plants by 2045, with earlier dates for fossil fuel power plants located in underserved communities. The bill also provides $ 580 million annually to build wind and solar, including significantly increased funding for community solar power, with the goal of raising the state’s renewable energy standard. to 40% by 2030 and 50% by 2040. The bill also includes funding for training programs to increase opportunities for BIPOC people in renewable energy industries, expands energy efficiency programs and weather protection in low-income communities and imposes new labor standards in the clean energy industry.

Importantly – and unusually for a bill hailed by green groups – the bill also contains a huge bailout for the state’s nuclear industry. It allocates nearly $ 700 million in grants to prevent the closure of the Byron and Dresden power plants, two out of six state nuclear power plants. This will extend their lifelines for an additional 5 years. Exelon, the owners of the factories and one of the country’s largest utilities, had set a deadline of September 13– the day the Climate and Fair Employment Act was passed – like the day they should start shutting down Byron without state help. It would have taken one of the largest nuclear power plants in the country offline. Nuclear Advocates Report Estimates All Six Illinois Nuclear Power Plants Currently Provide 90% of the state’s clean energy. Some analyzes showed that plant closures would cause coal and gas plants to run more frequently to keep the grid operational, in addition to affecting the thousands of plant workers.

Nuclear power is, on paper, a promising source of emission-free energy: some climatologists like James Hansen have stressed the need to strengthen nuclear energy in order to move the world off fossil fuels and avoid the worst impacts of climate change. But thanks to public skepticism about its safety and soaring technology prices, the industry has landed on hard times.

As a result, the remaining nuclear power plants on the grid in the United States have become something of an energy hot potato, a source of complex conversations about jobs, clean energy, and energy prices that often don’t match up to clear political lines. In Ohio, a plan to bail out that state’s nuclear industry became tied to the fate of coal-fired power plants. Some of the Republicans who pushed the package were then toppled on corruption charges for taking money from FirstEnergy, the power company that owned the nuclear plants in question.

Meanwhile, many green groups applauded the closure of the Indian Point power plant in New York City earlier this year. They pointed to promising sources of renewable energy to reduce state emissions, despite the fact that the plant’s closure deprived the region of its largest source of carbon-free energy and some estimates that emissions could temporarily increase during the commissioning of new renewables.

The Illinois bill, by contrast, clearly ties nuclear bailouts new provisions for clean jobs and environmental justice. Green groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club have both supported shutdown of nuclear power plants in the past, and the Sierra Club has speak against nuclear subsidies in Illinois. But both groups applauded the passage of this new bill.

However, Illinois’ success doesn’t mean nuclear is suddenly on the table for environmental groups. “Illinois needs to move away from dirty fossil fuels as quickly as possible to tackle the climate crisis,” JC Kibbey, a clean energy advocate for the NRDC in Illinois, said in an email. “In the longer term, we will move away from nuclear power because wind and solar offer a cheaper and safer solution. and a more reliable source of energy. This is what we do in Illinois. We are developing a roadmap for an orderly transition to a clean energy future.


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