SPRINGFIELD — While much energy is being expended at the Capitol trying to forge agreements on the state budget, several Illinois electricity providers are hoping lawmakers will focus on legislation to deal with the state's long-term power needs.

The nuclear, coal and renewable-energy industries are competing for legislators' attention as the General Assembly's spring session nears its scheduled May 31 adjournment. All three are backing measures they say are vital to the state's energy future and its economy.

Exelon Generation is seeking legislative changes that it says are essential to the future of its nuclear power plants near Clinton and the Quad Cities.

The measure, sponsored by state Sen. Donne Trotter, D-Chicago, would extend state subsidies to nuclear power plants that are struggling financially. Exelon says the subsidies are warranted because, like wind and solar power, nuclear doesn't emit carbon pollution.

The company estimates the proposal would add about 25 cents a month to the average residential customer's power bill.

State Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, and state Rep. Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth, joined a group of local officials from DeWitt County in a meeting with Gov. Bruce Rauner on Thursday at the Capitol. The lawmakers and local officials are backing the bill because they say it will save jobs and save customers money on their power bills in the long run.

If the Clinton plant were to close, "you're talking about a massive rate increase on ratepayers anywhere in downstate Illinois — senior citizens, families, businesses," Rose said.

That's because the plant accounts for a large share of the "base load" power for the region, meaning it's generating energy nearly all the time, he said.

The bill also would save jobs, including nearly 700 at the Clinton plant, supporters say.

"We will continue with this fight ... to try to keep the power plant open," said Marian Brisard, executive director of the Clinton Chamber of Commerce. "It's a very important employer in our community."

Those who attended the meeting said the governor's office is reviewing the legislation. His spokeswoman didn't respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of House and Senate members from central and southern Illinois is pushing legislation that aims to preserve coal as part of Illinois' energy mix.

State Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, is sponsoring the legislation, which would require utilities to have purchasing agreements with "qualified clean coal facilities" and create a special state fund to support the use of technology such as "scrubbers" to reduce emissions from burning coal.

Phil Gonet, president of the Illinois Coal Association, said the industry group is "for an all-of-the-above energy strategy."

"Coal's important to the energy (mix) for Illinois," said Mitchell, whose district includes the Clinton plant. "I think coal, nukes, wind and solar are all good for Illinois. But right now the playing field isn't level for nukes. We just want to make it a level playing field."

The Exelon also bill includes $140 million in funding for the solar power industry.

Kevin Borgia, public policy manager for Wind on the Wires, said his industry is still pushing for a bill that would fix problems with the state's renewable-energy portfolio standard, which currently calls for 25 percent of Illinois' energy to come from renewable sources by 2025.

Borgia said the Exelon bill as drafted would stifle the future development of wind energy in the state.

"That's really a loss for the state," he said. "It's really a loss, in this case, for downstate and rural Illinois, which is where we're going to build wind farms." 

Follow Dan Petrella on Twitter: @petrellareports


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