unions and environmentalists declare deadlock on energy agreement | Chicago News


Just weeks before Exelon’s shutdown of a nuclear reactor in Byron, conflicting interests – and politically powerful ones – failed to reach a deal that would keep the plant open and otherwise steer Illinois toward renewable energy targets.

The main points on which environmentalists and unions have agreed after months, if not years, of negotiating a major energy deal: that they are deadlocked and that it is time for lawmakers and Governor JB Pritzker to take matters into his own hands and resume talks.

Environmental groups, under the mantle of the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition, blame the organized work that has been organized as an umbrella group Climate Jobs Illinois.

“We are writing to inform you with regret that negotiations between the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition and Climate Jobs Illinois around the passage of a climate bill and fair employment in Illinois are in the deadlock, “conservationists wrote in a letter to General Assembly leaders and the government on Monday. JB Pritzker.

The unions also sent a note to the governor and legislative leaders citing “intractable differences”.

“We are writing to you sadly to let you know today that due to the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition’s failure to negotiate in good faith, we have come to what we believe is a dead end to come up with a bill. on clean energy due to seemingly intractable differences. The letter reads. “Due to the (environmental) group’s failure to negotiate in good faith, we are forced to declare an impasse in the negotiations. We don’t savor this moment. No one wins in this scenario.

That no one wins in a deadlock is another point on which both sides would agree.

The energy package in question is massive.

But at its heart lies the main prerogative of fighting climate change by relying more, if not completely, on carbon-free energies and renewable energy sources.

To get there, the state needs Exelon to keep a trio of nuclear generators open in Illinois.

This, even as Exelon threatens to shut down the Dresden reactor in November and the Byron reactor as early as next month.

Byron Nuclear Power Plant in Ogle County, Illinois. (Christopher Peterson / Wikimedia Commons)

Unions want factories to stay open first because thousands of jobs are at stake; AFL-CIO Illinois Secretary-Treasurer Pat Devaney said factories and resulting jobs serve as economic engines in areas of Illinois where other opportunities are lacking.

“Number two, the impact that (the shutdown) would have on the reliability of the state. Illinois nuclear currently provides more than 50% of the baseload used by state consumers, ”he said. “And finally the environmental impact and the impact on the climate. If, in fact, that generation goes, a carbonless generation, we’re going to fire up coal-fired power plants, import fossil production from out of state, to replace that huge amount of electricity that these nuclear facilities provide.

How to phase out factories in Illinois that use coal and natural gas for energy, a process known as decarbonization, is a major sticking point.

Unions want the ability to keep some factories open, thus preserving the jobs they provide, if factories in the decades to come install still-developing technology to sequester carbon.

Devaney argues that this is a “rational” approach that will keep Illinois jobs in place; moving factories offline before there are enough renewable sources to fill the gap will result in the state importing equally dirty energy from neighboring states.

Environmental groups want permanent shutdown dates, with 2035 for most coal plants and 2045 for most gas plants, with the Prairie State Energy Campus and the City Water Light and Power coal-fired power plants in Springfield being able to operate until. in 2045 if they have carbon capture technology.

“CJI’s insistence on allowing all coal and gas-fired power plants to remain open and pollute forever is something our communities and the climate cannot afford or survive,” complains their letter from the job. “CJI’s proposal (June) created unlimited carbon emissions loopholes, allowing any polluting fossil fuel plant to remain open in the state for as long as it wanted and completely exempting gas plants. of any reduction in pollution for the next two decades. ”

Governor Pritzker, usually a staunch ally of the unions, sided with the environmentalists.

His office issued a letter essentially humiliating the labor force.

“I have negotiated in good faith as the pro-coal forces have moved the objectives throughout this process… If you are willing to remove the obstacles to advancement, the stalemate you find yourself in can be resolved.” , we read in the letter of August 2.

Pritzker is sticking to a proposal presented in June that he called a “compromise” but for which there does not appear to be enough support to pass the General Assembly.

Democrats, who control the legislature, are in a difficult political position given the party’s traditional allegiances with environmental and labor movements.

Despite the status quo, the warring parties agree that it is time for the governor and lawmakers to take control.

Chicago Democrat Senator Bill Cunningham and a leading negotiator, said while all interests were focused on their common ground, he was optimistic about a deal.

“There are a lot of things in common. All parties want to put us on the path to sustainable and renewable energy and want to create jobs along the way, ”he said.

There was for months broad agreement on what was once considered the most difficult aspect of the package: what to do to keep nuclear power plants open.

Illinois is already backing Exelon nuclear power plants in the cities of Quad and Clinton with taxpayer subsidies, under the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA) that federal prosecutors allege Commonwealth Edison leaders have used bribes to impersonate – a connection that left lawmakers disgusted at being seen once again tapping into the pockets of voters to support a business that would have relied on corrupt impulses in the past.

But in the spring, a deal was struck that would keep nuclear power plants open by imposing a $ 700 million surtax on taxpayer bills for the next five years; Cunningham says that’s about 80 cents on an average electric bill.

But he says it’s complicated by the prospect that the federal on-hold infrastructure bill will set aside funds to keep nuclear power plants open.

“We need to be aware of what’s going on in Washington, we need to make sure that we don’t put decision-makers at risk and make them foot the bill for something Washington might take a month or two down the road,” Cunningham mentioned.

Exelon, however, says that even if passed, the federal agreement would not do what is necessary to prevent factories from shutting down.

“While we remain encouraged by growing congressional support for preserving nuclear power to combat climate change, the provisions currently under consideration in the Senate Infrastructure Bill do not offer political certainty. and financial that we need and could take months or even years to come. achievement, if at all, ”Exelon spokesman Pau Adams said in a statement. “Meanwhile, our nuclear plants in Byron and Dresden are due to be recharged this fall – Byron in September and Dresden in November. If we refuel both stations to delay their decommissioning, we commit to operating the factories for up to two more years, during which time we could face lost revenue of several hundred million dollars. We cannot risk incurring these losses without the guarantee of a legislative solution. The proposed clean energy legislation in Illinois is the only solution that can pass over time to provide the certainty we need, while protecting consumers by ensuring that all nuclear funds come from the future federal legislation be passed on to customers. ”

Meanwhile, wind and solar jobs are also on the line. Nakhia Crossley, of the solar industry, says Illinois’ booming renewable energy industry has lost 3,500 jobs and it continues.

“State funding for solar programs was completely depleted by the end of 2020, and so now the biggest companies are facing some very tough decisions to continue employing Illinois citizens. Likewise, small solar companies headquartered in Illinois face some very tough decisions about the future of their businesses, ”Crossley said. “I think the important message at this point is that it would be really tragic if Illinois had come this far to lose momentum now. And so we really need the leadership of the state to make a decision, to go. moving forward with the growth of renewable energy in Illinois. ”

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

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