November 30, 2016
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Gov. Bruce Rauner and Exelon have agreed to an eleventh-hour deal that paves the way for a ratepayer-financed bailout that will keep two at-risk nuclear plants open.
The two sides negotiated last night and this morning and produced a framework that the governor can support. In a release, Exelon said it had agreed to changes in the wide-ranging legislation that limit the rate hikes for the average Commonwealth Edison household customer to 25 cents per month and a 1.3 percent increase for businesses based on their 2015 rates.
A number of business groups, including the Illinois Manufacturers Association, remain opposed, and there are questions about how strong those "rate caps" are.
In addition, money for new “microgrids” requested by Exelon-owned Commonwealth Edison will be struck from the bill, sources said. ComEd originally wanted $250 million in ratepayer money to build five independently functioning mini-power grids for sensitive installations throughout northern Illinois. In negotiations, that was pared to just one, for the Bronzeville neighborhood on Chicago's South Side. Now that is gone, too, sources say.
Exelon's Clinton nuclear power plant. The utility had set a deadline of early December to reach agreement on a bailout bill, or it would be forced to close the downstate facility.
Money for new solar development in Illinois will be pared as well.
The measure still will greatly expand financing and goals for construction of new wind and solar projects in Illinois, as well as utility-run programs to reduce energy consumption. And ComEd for the first time will be allowed to earn a return on the money it spends on energy-efficiency programs.
Rauner also won concessions on behalf of the state's largest industrial power users, exempting them from rate hikes to finance the energy-efficiency expansion.
The governor's resistance to the bill was seen as the last impediment to a deal that would keep two of Exelon's six nuclear plants in the state from closing prematurely. Exelon had set a deadline of early December to reach agreement on a bailout bill or it would be forced to close its Clinton plant downstate.
The company has agreed to keep the plants open for at least a decade under the legislation.
"While there is still a lot of work to be done, we are pleased to have an understanding with the governor's office and continue to work with the four (legislative) leaders and their professional staffs, as well as other stakeholders and the bill's more than 200 other supporters, to move this bill forward," Exelon said in a statement. "With today's progress, we are all one step closer to saving thousands of jobs in Illinois."
The agreement now appears to clear the way for quick passage. But, with budget negotiations between Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan still at a stalemate, lawmakers will have to vote for what in the end will be an electricity rate hike for all Illinoisans when there isn't yet a budget, the state is billions behind on bills it owes and a future tax hike is likely.
A Rauner spokesman didn't respond immediately to a request to comment.