Downstate Senate Republicans Raise Alarm on Rising Energy Costs

By Benjamin Cox on February 15, 2023 at 9:46am

Downstate Senate Republicans are raising the alarm on rising energy bills.

50th District State Senator Jil Tracy of Quincy joined fellow senators Chapin Rose, Dave Severin, and Terri Bryant at the Capitol yesterday in a call for action for the General Assembly to address what they have say is a utility bill “crisis.”

Tracy says the rising costs have hit low income families the hardest: “There’s been at least a 90% increase in families’ power bills since last May. That crisis is real, and continuing, and needs to be addressed. The first step would be to appropriate the $200 million in relief that was already passed in a bill but not appropriated. There is no good reason that that money should not be appropriated immediately.”

Tracy is referring to House Bill 4412 that passed on January 27th during the previous General Assembly’s lame duck session.

Tracy says the appropriation of the money from the bill is a temporary solution and the General Assembly should look at more permanent solutions for easing the rising costs in utilities. State Representative Amy Elik of Alton and State Senator Erica Hariss of Glen Carbon announced a bill yesterday that would allocate the previously passed funds for emergency relief. The bill would release the $200 million from the state’s General Revenue Fund to the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to provide much-needed reimbursements to Ameren residential and small commercial customers experiencing higher bills.

Tracy says the first long-term solution to rising electric bills is to find a way to ease the electricity demand on the downstate electrical grid ran by MISO: “We all agree prioritizing sustainable energy, renewable energy has great merit, has great value, but what [the General Assembly] did when we passed Senate Bill 9 is go into an ‘all or nothing’ mode. We made that policy that we have got to reach sustainability and renewable energy production goals that really are kind of unrealistic. [Democrats] forget that we need a grid right now that’s reliable and can provide the energy goals that people need right now and quit driving up these rates.”

Senate Bill 9, the Coal Ash Pollution Prevention Act that passed in 2019, provided that energy producers that use coal would pay for any coal ash pollution in the state. The Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, or SB 2048, known as CEJA, passed fully in 2021 and requires the state to transition to clean, renewable energy by 2050. The act requires the state to meet 30% of that goal by the end of this decade. It also requires the coal-fired Prairie State and CWLP Dallman energy campuses, to be 100% carbon-free by December 31, 2045.

Tracy says she’s also introduced separate legislation that would create an electrical grid task force to investigate all of the clean and renewable energy projects along with current energy sources on the state’s grid and others that are not currently on the state’s grid. State Democrats have complained that the Midcontinent Independent System Operator has not on-boarded several renewable projects into the grid, which are driving up costs to consumers.

Tracy says that downstate families have suffered under the state’s commitment to meet the clean energy requirements passed under the Clean Energy & Jobs Act passed four years ago. Tracy says that Governor J.B. Pritzker and Chicago Democrats didn’t take a full look at downstate families when the legislation was passed back then.

Chicago and the northeastern portion of the state are not on the MISO grid, but are on their own grid, which state GOP leaders says has caused them to overlook the impact on downstate.

Tracy’s colleagues say that by adding more megawatts of clean, gas-generated power by cutting through bureaucracy to get it to the grid may be a long-term solution to high energy costs. GOP leaders say they hope to hear some of these concerns discussed in Pritzker’s budget address today.