By JERRY NOWICKI
Capitol News Illinois
The state Senate on Thursday advanced a measure to create a task force to study electric grid reliability in light of the 2021 passage of the energy regulatory overhaul bill known as the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act.
A House committee, meanwhile, began preliminary conversations about lifting the ban on new nuclear developments in Illinois.
The unpaid, 33-member task force outlined in Senate Bill 1104 would be known as the Illinois Regional Generation Reliability Task Force. It passed 32-15 in a bipartisan vote, although several Democrats voted against the measure. It still needs approval in the House.
The task force would study the effect of state laws, including CEJA, on energy prices as well as grid reliability. It would also study ways to deploy new technologies and ways to “improve” the power supply mix, among other tasks.
It wouldn’t have authority to create any new laws or regulations, but it would report to the General Assembly by Feb. 1, 2023, and each year thereafter.
Labor unions were among some of the prominent backers of the bill, according to witness slips filed on the General Assembly website, while the environmental group Illinois Sierra Club opposed the measure.
Task force makeup
The task force’s makeup was part of the reason the Sierra Club opposed it, according to chapter director Jack Darin, who said the task force wouldn’t be representative of the state.
The task force would be made up mostly of industry groups and lawmakers.
That includes three senators and representatives appointed by each of the chambers’ majority leaders and two senators and representatives appointed by the minority leaders. The governor would have an appointee as well.
Labor unions would have two members, one appointed by the Senate president, another by the House speaker.
The PJM regional transmission organization in northern Illinois and the MISO regional transmission organization in the rest of the state would each designate a member as well. Those are both federally-regulated multi-state organizations that oversee grid reliability and energy auctions for dozens of states. The independent market monitors of those organizations would each have a representative on the board as well.
Several business interests also would have a seat at the table.
Six different power generation companies would have a spot on the board – two appointed each by the Senate president and speaker and one each by each chamber’s minority leaders.
Other groups receiving a seat on the task force include: statewide retail, manufacturing, business and retiree associations; a representative from a minority-owned geothermal group; and two representatives from environmental law groups.
The directors or designees of the Illinois Power Agency, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and Illinois Commerce Commission would be on the task force as well.
CEJA was the sprawling energy bill passed last fall that aimed to decarbonize Illinois’ energy sector by 2050, requiring coal, gas and other fossil fuel generating plants to go offline on a staggered timeline.
Sen. Napoleon Harris, D-Harvey, carried the task force bill.
“I’ve talked to the opposition about some of their concerns, and their concerns was centered around potential rollbacks of CEJA,” he said. “I assured them that’s not the intention of this task force, but more so to remain focused on testing the reliability of what we did, and to monitor the grid reliability and to develop the tools to evaluate the impact of those proposed policies.”
Darin, of the Sierra Club, noted he believed the task force function to be duplicative of CEJA, while some of the findings contained in the bill were contradictory of CEJA’s goals of making Illinois’ energy mix carbon free.
Darin said the federally-regulated PJM and MISO grids could override Illinois’ 2050 closure dates for fossil fuel plants if grid reliability were threatened.
When CEJA was passed late last year, its Democratic backers noted it specifically provides that the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, Illinois Commerce Commission and Illinois Power Agency conduct a study at five-year intervals to determine whether renewables and nuclear are doing enough for grid sustainability.
If they’re not, Rep. Robyn Gabel, an Evanston Democrat who was one of the lead negotiators in the House, said in September the agencies could decide to leave some of the coal- or gas-fired plants online.
Sen. Mike Hastings, D-Frankfort, who was a chief co-sponsor on the CEJA bill, echoed that sentiment in a September news conference.
“The first wave of plants to close would be 2030, and so 2025 we’ll start the planning process in terms of grid reliability,” Hastings said in a news conference following the bill’s passage. “And through that we’ll determine, based on the planned closures, what’s the baseload generation going to be for the state of Illinois and we’ll make an assessment at that point whether or not we have to extend certain timelines, or put other measures in place.”
Hastings supported the task force measure Thursday, noting in a floor speech that it’s “a bipartisan issue to ensure that the lights do go on.” The bill “should be a precursor” to look into new forms of energy, he said.
Sen. Sue Rezin, a Republican from Morris who voted for CEJA, praised the task force bill.
“We’re not changing any of the negotiations from the last energy bill that we agreed on, worked on for two years,” she said. “But this is a task force to make sure that this state’s energy portfolio has the mechanism to create reliability.”
The House had its own discussion on energy reliability, with Rep. Mark Walker, D-Arlington Heights, leading a discussion about lifting the state’s 1987 cap on new nuclear power developments.
In a conversation with Capitol News Illinois, Walker said the cap was put in place at a time when the dangers of carbon emissions were not as clear as they are today. Nuclear energy does not emit carbon.
Having the option to consider new nuclear developments, whether they are micro-reactors or large utility-scale plants, would be good to have as the state seeks to be carbon free by 2050, he said.
The discussion at the committee level was on a subject matter basis, meaning any decision to lift the cap would come at a future date.
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government that is distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.