In Midwest first, Illinois bans fossil fuel electricity sources

3 minute read

A pile of coal in an active coal mine located next to a new solar power plant development site in Hurley, western Virginia. REUTERS/Dane Rhys

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  • Law requires clean energy system by 2050
  • Illinois nuclear power plants to get $700 million in help
  • Legislation to grow investment in wind and solar to $580 million yearly

(Reuters) - Illinois became on Wednesday the first Midwest state to adopt a law that sets a roadmap to ban coal in the state, eliminate other fossil-fuel sources of electricity and provide only "clean energy," including nuclear, after Governor J.B. Pritzker signed into law the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act.

Illinois, a large coal producer, will under the new law provide its struggling nuclear power plants $700 million over five years in the form of carbon-mitigation credits, according to the state's House Energy Working Group, and double current investment into wind and solar energy to as much $580 million a year, according to an analysis by the nonprofit Natural Resource Defense Council.

"We can't outrun or hide from climate change – not to the north, where the Boundary Waters burn; not to the south, where Ida swallows lives and livelihoods in the blink of an eye," Pritzker said in a statement.

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Energy companies and environmental groups alike commended the move that mandates only clean-energy sources in the state by 2050. Exelon Corp's chief executive hailed in a statement the architects of the law as "offer(ing) a better future for the employees" of its six nuclear plants in Illinois. Two of those plants were slated to retire but will now be refueled instead, Exelon said.

Illinois generates more electricity from nuclear energy than any other state – about 58% of its net electricity generation, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

The law also requires all private coal-fired power plants that have a capacity of more than 25 megawatts, numbering about half a dozen, and a handful of oil-fired power plants to emit zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, while natural-gas fired power plants of that size must reach zero emissions by 2045. Municipal coal-fired power plants have until 2045 to do the same, Pritzker's office said. The law creates a program to help coal-fired power plants turn into solar facilities.

Coal-fired power plants have been the state's second-largest electricity provider for the past decade, but their output has declined from about half of Illinois' net electricity generation in 2008 to about a fifth in 2020, according to the EIA. Illinois is the country's fourth largest coal producer, after Wyoming, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, the EIA says.

Jack Darin, the director of the Sierra Club Illinois chapter spoke of a "a historic day" when the bill cleared the state Senate on Monday.

Lawyer Tyler Welti, a partner at law firm Venable, said the law "is likely to be a market driver outside the state too, as other states follow suit."

Other states to have passed laws mandating 100% clean-energy are California, Hawaii, Maine, New Mexico, New York and Washington, according to a report by UCLA's Luskin Center for Innovation.

"I would hope and expect that other Midwestern states will follow Illinois' lead," said Martin Mattes, a partner at law firm Nossaman.

Read more:

Illinois approves $700 million in subsidies to Exelon, prevents nuclear plant closures

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