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Last-minute Exelon subsidy plan goes to Illinois House floor

Posted 9:22 p.m. Wednesday

— A massive plan to bolster Illinois' nuclear industry and expand energy efficiency programs will get a House floor vote Thursday on the final day of the General Assembly's fall session, despite concerns by critics that the measure amounts to a multibillion-dollar bailout.

The Energy Committee voted 9-1 late Wednesday evening to advance the legislation that funnels $235 million a year to power-producing giant Exelon Corp. for 13 years. The money subsidizes unprofitable nuclear plants in Clinton and the Quad Cities that Exelon said would be shuttered over the next 18 months.

Environmental groups hail the plan for its recognition and reward of "clean" energy production.

And a key change in the measure, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Bob Rita of Blue Island, is a cap on power rates for all customers.

Backed by Exelon and its power-distributing subsidiary ComEd, along with environmental groups because of a massive expansion of electricity-saving efficiency programs, the legislation had stalled. But it got a Wednesday morning jump-start from legislative leaders and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, according to a statement by a supportive Illinois Retail Merchants Association.

Rauner had expressed concern in recent weeks about Exelon's claim that without the subsidy, there would be 4,200 jobs at Clinton and Cordova lost by the shutdowns.

Consumer groups oppose the plan as a bailout to save unnecessary nuclear plants. The BEST Coalition has argued for months that Illinois produces 41 percent more power than it needs, exports the excess, and that Illinois ratepayer subsidies would mean cheaper electricity rates for out-of-state consumers.

Committee members debating the measure Wednesday noted positive changes, including the rate caps. But Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office reserved judgment. Susan Satter, the attorney general's public utilities counsel, expressed optimism about the rate caps. But she said the office needed more time to render judgment on the agreement that popped onto committee members' desks at about 4 p.m.

Exelon has been pushing the plan for several years. It argues that nuclear energy, like wind- and solar-generated power, produces no harmful greenhouse gases, yet doesn't benefit under state law for subsidies like wind and solar do.

With President-elect Donald Trump promising to dismantle federal steps toward cleaner air, critics of the Illinois plan also questioned its need.

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The bill is SB2184 .

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Contact Political Writer John O'Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/john-oconnor .

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