(The Center Square) – A bipartisan group of state lawmakers warns that handing over a near-monopoly to nuclear power by forcing the closure of nonprofit coal-fired power plants will mean higher energy costs in downstate Illinois.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker says coal plants need to close for environmental reasons.

Backed by labor and municipal leaders, state Sen. Doris Turner, D-Springfield, said nonprofit coal-fired power plants like Springfield-owned City Water Light and Power aren’t asking for handouts. They just want more time than the governor’s 2035 deadline to close down coal power.

“Our communities need a little more runway to ensure the transition to cleaner energy goes smoothly and does not cause major spikes in taxes and electric bills,” Turner said.

Labor leaders say clean energy jobs won’t match the careers in coal-fired power plants.

State Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, said what’s happening isn’t fair.

“How just is it to lose all these jobs at CWLP?” Butler asked. “How just is it to close down a coal mine and lose 200-plus jobs there. How just is it for our rural citizens who rely on co-ops to have their rates go up dramatically because these close. That’s not just.”

It’s expected Illinois state lawmakers could return to the capitol in the weeks ahead to take up an energy proposal the governor says is being put in bill form.

Pritzker has said in the past week an energy deal at the statehouse to focus on renewable energy would keep nuclear plants open, some of which have threatened to close later this year because of hundreds of millions in revenue losses.

Attorney Stephan Blandin with Romanucci & Blandin, LLC, is suing ComEd over the bribery scandal the utility admitted to in federal court documents. That scandal thus far has led to three former ComEd officials being charged in the case. One has pleaded guilty. The ongoing federal investigation has also implicated former House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Madigan has not been charged with a crime and maintains he’s done nothing wrong and knew of no attempted influence.

Blandin urged the governor not to buy what ComEd’s parent company Exelon is selling in an expected energy deal.

“What’s taking place right now in Springfield is an attempt on behalf of Exelon, the parent company, in a shakedown of the state legislature to extort additional funds,” Blandin said.

Blandin claims Exelon is selling energy to a different subsidiary, Constellation Energy, which is selling it back to Exelon.

“They are not losing money, they are making 200% of the money they are reporting to Springfield,” Blandin said.

A spokesperson for Exelon said Blandin's claims "are without merit and show a complete lack of understanding how our business is structured and how wholesale and retail energy markets work."

"The Illinois Power Agency oversees purchases of electricity for ComEd customers through a competitive process in which all generators participate," said Exelon spokesman Paul Adams. "The IPA selects the lowest bidders to serve that load based on prevailing market rates.”

Staff Reporter

Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other issues for The Center Square. Bishop has years of award-winning broadcast experience and hosts the WMAY Morning Newsfeed out of Springfield.