5/30/16 - NEWS GAZETTE: No vote on Exelon bill; future of Clinton plant unclear

By: TOM KACICH

The sponsor of a bill aimed at remaking Illinois' electric utility landscape and saving the Clinton nuclear power plant said Monday the legislation won't be passed before today's deadline set by Exelon Corp.

And Exelon officials said they'd reveal "within the next few days" how the failure to pass the bill would affect the future of the power plant and its 700 employees.

Exelon had warned earlier that it needed the Legislature to act by May 31, or it would begin a lengthy process to shut down the 29-year-old nuclear plant by next summer. The plant about 30 miles west of Champaign makes up about half of the assessed valuation in DeWitt County.

"At this time the future of the Next Generation Energy Plan remains unclear," Exelon said in a statement released Monday evening. "We'll have more to say about the path forward within the next few days."

The chief sponsor of SB 1585, Sen. Donne Trotter, D-Chicago, said groups involved in its negotiations had met as recently as last Friday.

"Time has run out," said Trotter. "I'm disappointed because I saw and heard, by sitting in those meetings, that there was some movement.  It was just one or two entities — and I'm not going to name them — who I think were intentially slowing the process down.

"All of that was in motion so I'm disappointed that two days before we get out of here that action that was needed to pull the trigger didn't happen."

Trotter and other supporters of the measure said they were hopeful it could still be passed this year, and that Exelon could be persuaded to extend its May 31 deadline.

"We can't afford to give up. This is about the next generation. The future is tomorrow, we need to be looking ahead to how we get this going," Trotter said. "I haven't had that conversation (with Exelon).

"Unfortunately the way it's been portrayed to me is that once they start to shut down processes, it's highly improbable to get it ratcheted back up. I know they're thinking long and hard on this because they're businessmen. They have to think about those steps that have to be taken especially when it involves something like nuclear power."

Exelon's plan would raise electric rates statewide -- it said it would cost the typical residential user about 25 cents a month — in order to keep open the Clinton plant and another nuclear unit near the Quad Cities. Exelon said earlier this month that the plants have lost about $800 million over the last six years, mainly because natural gas prices have been so low and have undercut nuclear power's cost.

The Chicago-based utility also said its energy bill would mean cleaner air, financial assistance to the needy, more energy efficiency and the retention of thousands of jobs statewide.

Rep. Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth, whose House district includes the Clinton plant, said "the lack of a budget is taking all the oxygen out of this place," and attention from the energy legislation.

He said Decatur's unemployment rate of 7.1 percent, already second-highest in the state, would worsen with the closure of the nuclear plant.

"If you add 700 jobsit will be devastating to the area I represent," said Mitchell. "Now I'm hopeful that maybe Exelon will reconsider the June announcement and let's try to work on it at a later date, maybe November, we might be in continuous session — who knows? — or a special session. There is some time to work on it."

Coincidentally, House Speaker Michael Madigan said Monday that the House would be in session every Wednesday through June.

Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said closing the plant "is a decision that has far-reaching consequences over the next several decades.  Losing the jobs in our area is bad enough, but industry analysts have told me that should Clinton close, the market price for power would drastically increase" from this year’s price of $72 per megawatt hour to as much as $225 per megawatt hour.

"Such rate increases will be disastrous to downstate Illinois by punishing working families and small businesses," said Rose.  "As the Legislature goes into overtime session yet again it is time for the Senate Democrat majorities to quickly finalize negotiations and send this bill over to the House and demonstrate some measure of ‘progress’ to Exelon."