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Growing concern over energy prices, power supply for downstate Illinois communities

Electric power lines in Springfield, Illinois.
Electric power lines in Springfield, Illinois.(Mike Miletich)
Published: Jun. 9, 2022 at 10:17 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - Downstate Illinois lawmakers worry energy prices for the power grid will continue to rise as Illinois closes more power plants, leading to more headaches for Ameren customers.

Although, the Clean Energy Jobs Act didn’t automatically close coal and natural gas plants. Those closures will gradually happen over time, but central and southern Illinois customers are already facing the possibility of brownouts.

Ameren Illinois does not generate power or have any control over the price of supply. Jim Blessing, the vice president of regulatory policy and energy supply, told lawmakers last month that the costs set by the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) and Illinois Power Agency are passed directly on to customers without marking it up for profit.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker says massive inflation has caused energy prices to go up even without the challenge of producing enough energy for downstate customers. Ameren attributes the rising prices to inflation, the Russian war in Ukraine, and coal plants closing.

Pritzker says this problem requires more energy generation and the state’s answer was pushing for more solar and wind projects through the Clean Energy Jobs Act.

“We also are talking about other states, surrounding states, that aren’t producing enough energy for the needs that exist,” Pritzker said Wednesday.

As an energy importer, the state relies on power from Indiana, Kentucky, and Missouri to power downstate Illinois. Rep. Tim Butler (R-Springfield) says this is due to the Pritzker administration pushing to close power plants in Illinois communities.

“We shouldn’t have to go other states and the governor shouldn’t blame other states,” Butler said. “He should be looking internally at the policies and really what’s happened over the last couple of decades here in Illinois to force the closure of these plants.”

Pritzker said his administration may be able to provide more financial resources to Ameren customers because Illinois has a surplus of revenue right now.

“But we’re also working, and this is more important, to make sure that we’re bringing online as many of the projects that are in the queue so that we can get electricity flowing faster,” Pritzker said.

The governor believes the big challenge for power will be less so this summer than it will be after the summer ends. Pritzker admitted there is work that needs to be done but Pritzker stressed his administration is on top of it.

Still, Butler wants to see a solution as soon as possible and would like to see lawmakers back in Springfield for a special session.

“And let’s repeal the billion dollars in pork projects that the Democrats gave themselves in this budget and put some of that money may be to helping energy assistance for people,” Butler said. “I think that’s a great idea.”

Pritzker said low-income and middle-class customers will have some financial assistance through the $1.8 billion family relief plan included in the Fiscal Year 2023 budget that takes effect July 1. However, Butler and other downstate lawmakers say the governor and clean energy advocates acted too quickly to close coal plants that provided energy for Ameren.

“They wanted to shut down the coal plants. Coal plants got shut down,” Butler said. “Now your rates are going up because we don’t have enough energy in the market. And this is exactly what we told people was going to happen, and it’s coming to fruition.”

Butler noted that most people don’t understand where their power comes from unless they live near wind turbines, solar panels, nuclear, natural gas, or coal plants. At the end of the day, Butler says everyone just wants to be able to turn their lights on. He would like to see lawmakers amend CEJA to bring more baseload power like natural gas back into the power grid.

“We’re working hard to determine how we can alleviate the bills that people might be threatened with for the summer and making sure that there’s enough electricity so that the lights will stay on everywhere,” Pritzker said.

While the application period for the state’s low-income home energy assistance program (LIHEAP) already passed, there is still utility assistance available through the Illinois Department of Human Services and Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. Ameren also has financial assistance available for low-income customers and should have a relief plan for moderate-income customers soon.

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