EDITORIAL: For consumers, energy bailout doesn't compute

By CRAIN'S EDITORIAL BOARD

If certain energy industry interests get their way in Springfield, you'll soon see your power bill rise—not because you're using more, and not because power has gotten more expensive to produce. No, you'll be paying more to keep open two nuclear plants that have been slated for closure, even though their owner, Chicago nuke giant Exelon, says they're no longer economically viable.

What's worse: Massive legislation now being drafted behind closed doors could also ask Illinois consumers to pony up more to help keep open two downstate coal-fired power plants—a sweetener that'd be intended to induce their owner, Dynegy, to support Exelon's atomic energy subsidies.

As Crain's Senior Reporter Steve Daniels wrote Oct. 28, Exelon's portion of the bailout could total $200 million to $265 million annually. For a typical residential customer, that works out to roughly $2 a month at the higher end of the range.

The bill is being drafted in advance of the General Assembly's fall veto session, which starts in November. Just about every major interest group has a hand in its construction, including Exelon; its subsidiary Commonwealth Edison; Dynegy, the state's second largest electricity generator and owner of mainly coal-fired plants; the Citizens Utility Board; and environmental groups Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council and Environmental Defense Fund.

Environmentalists are at the table to push subsidies for wind and solar providers as well as energy-efficiency programs. For now, the measure doesn't bail out Dynegy's coal burners, which the company targets for closing because they're no longer economical. But Dynegy and Exelon have previously discussed ways that would funnel more revenue into these plants, and that language could end up in a final bill. How environmentalists would spin their role in subsidizing coal-fired power plants remains to be seen.

Power producers aren't pushing for more money because we need the power. Quite the contrary: In 2015, Illinois generated 41 percent more electricity than it needed, even as power demand has shrunk 3.8 percent since 2011.

Even if provisions never materialize to keep coal-fired plants fired up, the energy bill still would subsidize unnecessary nukes, meaning Illinois ratepayers will effectively be paying more so ratepayers in other states who use our surplus power will pay less.

And that's just another incentive for commercial and industrial consumers—and employers—to jump the border.