CHICAGO (CBS/AP) -- Gov. JB Pritzker on Wednesday signed sweeping clean energy legislation that sets goals to make Illinois carbon-free by 2050, and staves off the closure of two of the state's six nuclear plants.
"Together, we are making history today, taking a giant leap forward to mitigate the impacts of climate change, to establish the most aggressive clean energy standards in the Midwest, becoming the best state in the nation to manufacture and drive an electric vehicle, supporting the creation of thousands of clean energy jobs right here in Illinois, and protecting and advancing the interests of every Illinoisan," Pritzker said.
The legislation provides a $700 million subsidy to ComEd parent company Exelon, which had threatened to shut down its Byron nuclear power plant and the Dresden site in Morris without a state bailout, calling those plants unprofitable.
Lawmakers spent months debating the details of the legislation, and agreed on the nuclear plant bailout in an effort to save hundreds of jobs, and preserve the carbon-free energy the plants generate.
In addition to the Exelon subsidy, the Clean Energy Jobs Act invests more money in renewable energy such as wind and solar. It also requires most coal-fired power plants to close by 2030, and natural gas plants to shut down by 2045.
It carves out an exception for a city-owned coal plant in Springfield and the Prairie State Generating Station in far southern Illinois. Carbon emissions at those two sites must be cut by 45% by 2035, and altogether by 2045.
"We refused to accept anything but the best for Illinois in terms of a clean energy future," Illinois State Sen. Michael Hastings (D-Tinley Park) said Monday. "Our work product is one that is renewable, reliable and affordable for all Illinoisans."
However, Republicans noted the rules for coal power plants applies only to plants generating more than 25 MW of power, leaving untouched coal-burning plants at several major universities and state-owned buildings.
The legislation also seeks to get 1 million electric vehicles on the road in Illinois by 2030, by offering $4,000 rebates on electric vehicle purchases, and 80% rebates towards the cost of installing charging stations.
Republicans complained that the $4,000 rebate on the purchase of an electric car would not be available to anyone outside of the Chicago metropolitan area. Hastings said the rebate is available in areas where an alternative fuels surcharge is collected to cover the rebates. But Illinois State Rep. Marcus Evans (D-Chicago), who sponsored the legislation in the House, said everyone statewide is eligible for the rebate.
Critics also worry that there's no plan to replace the capacity lost when coal plants are shut down, meaning Illinois will be importing its energy. Downstate lawmakers contend Prairie State opened less than a decade ago under clean-air rules set by President Barack Obama's administration and produces more clean energy — 12% of its output — than the current 7% average statewide.
"The biggest fallacy of them all is for people to go out and issue press releases that they're getting tough and carbon that we're going to get rid of evil coal," said Sen. Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet). "Those of us who live along the Indiana border know exactly what's going to happen. All those electrons are going to get back-filled from Indiana and Kentucky with carbon. We're going to trade carbon for carbon, except this time, we get the privilege of paying more for it."
Christopher Crane, president and CEO of Exelon, called the legislation a "roadmap for rebuilding our economy and addressing the climate crisis by investing in clean energy."
"This new policy offers a better future for the employees who have run these plants at world-class levels, the plant communities that we are privileged to serve and all Illinoisans eager to build a clean energy economy that works for everyone," Crane said in a statement.
The package sets ethics standards for utilities to meet, given the criticism over what's derided as a $700 million bailout for Exelon, whose subsidiary, utility giant ComEd, has acknowledged to federal prosecutors that it engaged in a decadelong bribery scheme in Springfield and is cooperating in an ongoing investigation that has implicated former House Speaker Michael Madigan and led to indictments of Madigan's closest confidante and a former ComEd CEO, among others.
"It's always been about our children and the world we are going to leave to them," said Senate President Don Harmon of Oak Park. "That's the reason we're taking this bold step.
(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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