By GRACE BARBIC
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – As Illinois lawmakers continue to push for the passage of an energy overhaul this spring, the Illinois House Energy and Environment Committee discussed the latest proposal to enter the discussion – Gov. JB Pritzker’s Consumers and Climate First Act.
House Bill 4074, sponsored by Rep. Kam Buckner, D-Chicago, was brought before committee for discussion only. Pritzker’s 900-page proposal was released at the end of April with the goal of transitioning Illinois to 100 percent carbon-free energy – including nuclear power – by 2050.
“This is the most important and pressing issue of our time,” Buckner said in the committee hearing. “While the past is not our fault, the future will be.”
The Consumers and Climate First Act includes provisions that “seize the opportunity to use climate action to create jobs and support working communities,” Buckner said.
Deputy Gov. Christian Mitchell, who also presented the bill in committee, said many of the ideas in Pritzker’s proposal align with the goals of other energy bills, especially the Clean Energy Jobs Act. Sponsored by Rep. Ann Williams, D-Chicago, CEJA was initially introduced to the General Assembly in spring 2019 and has been one of the most publicized bills amid ongoing energy negotiations.
Some of the similar goals include CEJA’s creation of clean workforce hubs and energy investments in wind turbines and solar power, as well as electrifying the transportation sector.
The governor’s bill also builds on labor provisions found in amendments made to House Bill 1472, known as the Climate Union Jobs Act, such as labor standards for utility-scale projects and other project labor agreements like prevailing wage.
It also builds off the Path to 100 Act, contained in House Bill 2640. That bill would increase the cap on energy bills from about 2 to 4 percent to provide funding for renewable projects, avoiding what its advocates call the “solar cliff.” The governor’s bill sets the rate cap at 3.75 percent.
“None of the pieces are there in total but we believe it’s a strong compromise proposal,” Mitchell said.
Pritzker’s bill aims to phase out coal by 2030 and natural gas by 2045 through declining caps on carbon emissions, and increases the state’s commitment to renewable energy, placing Illinois on a path to at least 40 percent of energy coming from renewable energy resources by 2030.
It also sets the goal of putting 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2030.
CEJA would commit Illinois to cutting all carbon from the power sector by 2030 with a goal of 45 percent renewable reliability by that time.
Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz, D-Glenview, questioned what the differences are between this proposal and CEJA, which she co-sponsors
“I think what gets confusing is rather than amending or tweaking a bill that’s been out there for a long time now, we have a wholly different proposal,” Gong-Gershowitz said. “I don’t know how to evaluate how different it is.”
Mitchell said the goals are aligned, but Pritzker’s bill differs from CEJA in terms of practice.
“For example CEJA had a larger number of workforce hubs,” Mitchell said. “We narrowed that to 16, and in ways that we thought that DCEO (Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity) could work with in an existing way, so that’s just an example of a place where there’s functional difference.”
“So there’s a lot of agreement. Mostly (the difference) was in terms of just the way things are executed, we wanted to make sure we can do them in ways that our agencies can execute,” he added.
There are also utility accountability and ethics provisions included in the governor’s bill, including an end to automatic formulaic rate increases for utility companies. Utility giant Commonwealth Edison admitted in court to offering no-work jobs to associates of former House Speaker Michael Madigan in exchange for his favor on the legislation which created the formula rates, leading to increased costs on consumer bills.
The bill also looks at possible restitution for ratepayers, expanding ethics filings for legislators and members of the executive branch who have family members on the payroll of utilities, and subjecting the Citizens Utility Board to the freedom of information act, among other ethics measures.
Also similar to CEJA, Pritzker’s energy proposal includes an equity piece, requiring utilities to increase investments in low-income protection programs. But Rep. Curtis Tarver, D-Chicago, questioned whether the proposal would live up to its promises and if there were any mechanisms in place to ensure equity actually occurs.
Mitchell said this is something that is still being figured out.
“The challenge of trying to do, and really enforce equity in the REC (renewable energy credit) program is that you are in a situation where a REC is getting awarded, and you’ve got developers and contractors who are in contract together…the state is no longer a party to those contracts so we have a real concern,” he said.
Mitchell said the governor’s office wants to make sure there is a way to actually enforce those provisions, but there is no specific solution in the legislation.
Mitchell also said the bill recognizes that natural gas remains an important bridge fuel as the state transitions to carbon-free resources and introduces an $8 per ton carbon price, similar to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which is in place in more than 10 states.
The RGGI program establishes a regional cap on the amount of carbon pollution that power plants can emit by issuing a limited number of tradable carbon allowances.
Many of CEJA’s programs are funded through fees placed on carbon-emitting energy sources. That includes fees paid quarterly by fossil fuel emitters based on the share of carbon they emit. That money would go to the Energy Community Reinvestment Fund to pay for the various aspects of the bill, with a revenue goal of $400 million annually through 2025.
No action has been taken on Pritzker’s proposal yet, but as the General Assembly reaches their final stretch of session, negotiations on a compromise measure continue. Mitchell said Pritzker’s administration is willing to continue to work on a final product.