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CLINTON — Gov. Bruce Rauner and the legislative sponsors of an energy policy overhaul that will keep open the Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear power plants received welcomes fit for a state champion sports team Wednesday during bill-signing celebrations in the communities.

During a morning event at Riverdale High School in Port Bryon and an afternoon event at Clinton High School, the first-term Republican governor and lawmakers were greeted by marching bands and gymnasiums full of students, nuclear plant employees, community members and dignitaries.

Taking the stage near the end of an hourlong rally in Clinton, Rauner declared it “a great day for the people of Illinois.”

“Everything I do as governor, everything we do as elected officials, everything we do as parents in our families is about creating a better future for our children and our grandchildren,” the governor said, adding, “That’s what this bill is about.”

The Future Energy Jobs Bill, Senate Bill 2814, which the General Assembly passed last week and Rauner signed into law Wednesday, creates up to $235 million in annual ratepayer subsidies to keep open Exelon Corp.’s two financially struggling nuclear power plants.

The company says the subsidies are warranted because nuclear generation, like subsidized wind and solar power, doesn’t emit carbon pollution that contributes to climate change.

The new law also contains provisions aimed at spurring the growth of Illinois’ renewable electricity-generation sector and increasing energy efficiency, measures that won the support of environmental and consumer groups.

Exelon had said it would shut down the Clinton plant June 1 and the Quad Cities plant the following year if the bill didn’t pass during the fall veto session, which ended Thursday. The two plants together employ about 1,500 full-time workers and generate millions of dollars in property tax revenue for schools and local governments.

Ted Stoner, site vice president for the Clinton Power Station, said the bill’s fate was uncertain even late on the final day of the veto session.

“It just didn’t seem as if it was going to happen,” Stoner said. “But nobody gave up. Nobody was defeated. Everybody figured out how to work together to see what we could accomplish.”

Stoner praised state Rep. Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth, and state Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, who represent the Clinton plant, for working to make sure the bill passed.

Rose, in turn, credited Rauner for getting involved toward the end of negotiations and producing a bill that extended the guarantee for the nuclear plants and capped rate increases for energy customers of all sizes.

The final passage was “truly due to Gov. Rauner’s leadership,” Rose said.

Mitchell thanked the bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Bob Rita, D-Blue Island, for his patience in shepherding the bill through hours of committee hearings and numerous revisions.

“It was truly a bipartisan bill,” Mitchell said.

Not everyone was cheering the signing of the bill, however.

The Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, AARP Illinois and other opponents continue to raise questions about the impact the new policy will have on electricity customers.

“Last week, lawmakers approved a 500-page bill that significantly alters Illinois’ energy policy with very little time for stakeholder review,” the manufacturers association said in a prepared statement. “We hoped that the Administration would take time to review this comprehensive legislation and contemplate the impact that electric rates have on Illinois job creators.”

Rauner said he wasn’t willing to “gamble on thousands of good-paying jobs” by not signing the bill.

Supporters also pointed to the caps on rate increases in the law.

For workers at the two plants, the bill being signed into law means greater certainty. The plants are guaranteed to remain open a decade under the law. 

Lamar Brown, 56, of Decatur, a security instructor at the Clinton plant who attended the ceremony, said it meant a lot after a difficult two years for him and his family since Exelon announced the possible closures.

“It’s been stressful due to all the uncertainty,” Brown said.

Clinton City Administrator Tim Followell said the bill being signed was a relief but also an incentive to focus on planning for the future.

“We don’t have any guarantees after 10 years,” Followell said, “so we on the local level still need to do our work to grow.”

Jennifer DeWitt of the Quad-City Times contributed to this report.

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Public Safety Reporter

Public safety reporter for The Pantagraph.

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