Growing Concern About Energy Prices and Electricity Supply to Southern Illinois Communities

SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) – Southern Illinois lawmakers are concerned that power grid energy prices will continue to rise as Illinois closes more power plants, causing more headaches for customers of America.

However, the Clean Energy Jobs Act did not automatically shut down coal and natural gas plants. These shutdowns will occur gradually over time, but customers in central and southern Illinois are already facing the possibility of brownouts.

Ameren Illinois does not generate electricity and has no control over the price of supply. Jim Blessing, vice president of regulatory policy and energy supply, told lawmakers last month that costs set by the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) and the Illinois Power Agency are passed directly to customers without raise them for profit.

Gov. JB Pritzker says massive inflation has driven up energy prices even without the challenge of generating enough power for downstate customers. Ameren attributes the price hike to inflation, the Russian war in Ukraine and the shutdown of coal-fired power plants.

Pritzker says this problem requires more power generation, and the state’s response has pushed for more solar and wind projects through the Clean Energy Jobs Act.

“We’re also talking about other states, neighboring states, that aren’t producing enough energy for existing needs,” Pritzker said Wednesday.

As an energy importer, the state relies on power from Indiana, Kentucky, and Missouri to power the state of Illinois. Rep. Tim Butler (R-Springfield) says that’s because the Pritzker administration is pushing to shut down power plants in Illinois communities.

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

Pritzker said his administration may be able to provide more financial resources to Ameren clients because Illinois currently has a revenue surplus.

“But we’re also working, and more importantly, to make sure that we bring as many projects online as are in the queue so that we can get the power flowing faster,” Pritzker said.

The governor thinks the big challenge for power will be less present this summer than it will be after the summer is over. Pritzker admitted there was work to be done, but Pritzker stressed his administration was above it all.

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 dollar hog projects that the Democrats gave themselves in this budget and maybe put some of that money into energy aid for people,” Butler said. “I think it’s a great idea.”

Pritzker said low-income and middle-class customers will receive financial relief through the $1.8 billion family relief plan included in the fiscal year 2023 budget that goes into effect July 1. too quickly to shut down the coal-fired power plants that provided power to Ameren.

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

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

“We’re working hard to figure out how we can ease the bills that people might be facing for the summer and make sure there’s enough electricity to keep the lights on everywhere,” Pritzker said.

While the application period for the state’s Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) has already passed, utility assistance is still available through the state Department of Social Services. Illinois and the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. Ameren also has financial assistance available for low-income customers and should soon have a relief plan for moderate-income customers.

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Alan A. Seibert