As it debates its energy future, Illinois policymakers should chart a course that puts competition — and ultimately, ratepayers — at the center of any policy framework.
Chicago and Northern Illinois electric ratepayers, beware. “The Bank” is open and seeking more from your wallets this fall. Just watch what’s playing out in Ohio.
A $60 million bribery scandal has rocked Ohio’s political scene, leading to criminal charges against the powerful state House speaker and other politicians involving a brazen scheme to pad the pockets of a major nuclear energy company. In the criminal complaint, the federal prosecutor said the company has “too much money and too much power” and gave it the nickname “The Bank” because it could fund political power grabs for decades at its choosing.
Sound familiar? It should.
Here in Illinois, Exelon-owned Commonwealth Edison just entered a deferred prosecution agreement after a lengthy federal investigation into similar corruption and bribery charges. Politically connected lobbyists and consultants helped them force through legislation, the 2016 Future Energy Jobs Act, that will cost Illinois electric consumers $2.3 billion, according to media reports.
But it’s clear, even after paying a $200 million fine, they have not learned their lesson.
Exelon is now driving a push in Springfield for the Clean Energy Jobs Act. In it, Exelon includes a mechanism called the Fixed Resource Requirement that could raise Illinois electricity prices by more than $414 million each year. As with the corruption-clouded FEJA, this new legislation is largely a customer-funded bailout for Exelon’s already profitable nuclear plans under the guise of building new clean energy resources.
Today, Chicagoans and other northern Illinoisans benefit greatly from robust competition to power their homes and businesses. Competitive power suppliers such as our members bring their best bid to provide reliable, affordable electricity to the regulated marketplace serving customers across many states.
A quick power industry primer: In many parts of the country, wholesale electricity is bought and sold in a competitive marketplace before utilities and retail power providers ultimately distribute that power to consumers and businesses. If power-producing plants aren’t profitable, their owners take them offline and absorb those costs, rather than making consumers pay for them. When many generators are able to compete in the marketplace, there is greater pressure to keep costs low and seek efficiencies. There is also greater transparency around what power generation costs and what customers are really paying for.
The Exelon-driven CEJA would cripple the competitive market for ComEd customers by creating a special power market that gives priority to nuclear power owned by an Exelon affiliate — and ratepayers will suffer for it.
Four million Illinois families and businesses have watched their electric bills rise while utility officials curried favor with Springfield legislators — going to extreme lengths to secure favorable policy, increase profits and reduce the need to compete with other power generators in a fair market. Why are bills going up when power prices in the region are at record lows?
Customers need more competitive choices to provide reliable power at the best possible price — not corporations involved in criminal conduct gaining even greater control. When that happens, consumers end up paying the price for utility corruption and bad business decisions because the costs are incorporated into monthly bill structures, reviewed and approved by state regulators.
In many states, customers are paying billions for obsolete stranded power plants or projects that are years behind schedule and over budget — in essence, they are paying for power on their monthly bills that they aren’t using. Utilities should have to more efficiently run their operations to provide affordable, reliable and cleaner power to customers, not set up special deals that ensure the customer never wins.
The federal investigation hasn’t stopped Exelon’s lobbying efforts. Company representatives have spent the last several months advocating heavily in Illinois and several other states to pass CEJA and the ill-advised Fixed Resource Requirement power market that would again prop up their uneconomic nuclear units at the expense of consumers and new renewable energy build.
We can and must do better.
It starts by holding clean energy advocates and state officials to their pledge not to let incumbent generators and utilities drive more energy legislation that puts their interests first. Then, we should more fully embrace the potential of competitive power markets to reach our clean energy goals while providing secure, reliable and affordable power all along the way.
Competitive power suppliers know how — and expect — to compete in those markets to provide the best, lowest cost product. As it debates its energy future, Illinois policymakers should chart a course that puts competition — and ultimately, ratepayers — at the center of any policy framework.