5/12/16 - CRAIN'S: Oops! Exelon's compromise energy bill nearly zeroes out green-power funding

By STEVE DANIELS May 12, 2016

When Exelon last week unveiled its new plan to preserve two Illinois nuclear plants in danger of closure, the company touted concessions to its traditional environmentalist adversaries, including $140 million in spending annually on new solar power projects in the state.

But when green groups and renewable power companies read the actual language of Exelon's bill a few days later, it turned out the measure would only generate about $7 million a year. That would effectively kill Illinois' clean-energy law, which has a goal of gradually boosting the state's reliance on wind, solar and other renewable electricity sources over time.

Exelon acknowledged what environmentalists said about the bill language. But the company said that wasn't its intention and maintained a drafting error was to blame.

The error, Exelon said in a statement, "already has been fixed to ensure all of (the bill's) intended benefits, which include $140 million in new funding for solar, solar rebates for customers and increased energy efficiency, are fully included. The reality is that changes to legislative language are a normal part of the process to make corrections and incorporate negotiated changes into a pending bill, and we have submitted an amendment to correct the error."

Not everyone in the green camp accepted the Chicago-based power-generation giant's explanation.

And at the very least, the mistake exacerbates the lack of trust some enviros have in the intentions and word of a company that carries far more clout in Springfield on energy issues than any other company or organization in Illinois.

For years, Exelon has blocked reform of the state's renewable portfolio standard. That law requires the state to move gradually to cleaner energy sources, but technical problems with how the law was crafted have stymied investment in green power for several years.

"This doesn't give us confidence that Exelon has reversed its historic opposition to the renewable portfolio standard," said Sarah Wochos, co-legislative director at the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center. "In a carefully crafted bill, it's hard to believe that this latest attempt to eviscerate renewable funding was a two-page 'drafting error.' "
An executive at the largest wind farm operator in Illinois, Spanish energy provider EDP Renewables, said Exelon's action needs to be viewed in the context of a company that took the lead in trying to eliminate the federal tax credit for new wind farms.

Even if one accepts Exelon's explanation, the company's bill doesn't allow for funding via the state's clean-energy law for new wind farms, said Seth Kaplan, EDP senior government affairs manager.

"In the world of diplomacy, they like to talk about confidence-building measures,” Kaplan said. "In the wake of this episode, some confidence-building measures are called for."

EDP's Illinois wind farms generate nearly 800 megawatts of electricity when operating at full capacity.

Exelon last week attempted to jump-start the stalled legislative process to preserve two money-losing nuclear stations in Illinois and approve a series of electricity-delivery rate-setting changes sought by Exelon-owned Commonwealth Edison.

Exelon unveiled a bill that would hike electricity rates annually—in the early years, by about $150 million—to make the downstate Clinton nuke and the Quad Cities plant profitable. In the meantime, Exelon said categorically it would close the two plants, which employ about 1,500, without state help.

Exelon pitched the new measure as a compromise, since last year it asked for statewide rate hikes generating $300 million annually that would have funneled that cash to its six-nuke Illinois fleet regardless of whether plants were making money or not.

It also promised to "strengthen and expand the renewable portfolio standard to provide stable, predictable funding for renewable development."