051916-dec-loc-clintonpic

Exelon Generation's Clinton Power Station is shown from the Illinois 54 bridge in this file photo. 

Lee News Service, Steve Smedley

Illinois lawmakers need to take a hard look at pending legislation that could keep hundreds of well-paying jobs in the state and keep two communities from taking a tremendous hit to their pocketbooks.

Exelon Generation, which owns nuclear power plants in Clinton and Quad-Cities, says state subsidies for struggling plants are warranted because nuclear doesn't emit carbon pollution. The plants have lost $800 million between 2009 and 2015 and will be closed early without the the state help. At stake are about 4,200 jobs (700 alone in Clinton) and $1.2 billion in economic activity.

Clinton knows all too well what happens when a big factory closes up shop; the city already lost its Revere Ware plant in 1999; its Thrall Railcar facility, sold in 2001, closed in 2002. In a county heavily reliant on industry, the power plant and Trinity Industries, which makes wind turbines, are among the top few employers.

For consumers, Exelon says the proposed legislation would add about 25 cents to the typical electric bill. The company is one of the largest downstate producers of electricity, so closing the Clinton plant would have a huge effect on consumers if electric suppliers had to buy power elsewhere.

Representatives of the coal, solar and wind industries also want a piece of the state pie -- and we're OK with that, too.

One of their proposals would require utilities to have purchasing agreements with "qualified clean coal facilities" and create a special state fund to support the use of technology to reduce emissions. The Exelon bill includes $140 million in funding for solar power. A wind industry proposal would fix problems with a state standard that calls for 25 percent of energy to come from renewable sources by 2025.

Gov. Bruce Rauner has expressed concern about being pushed against the wall by the energy industries. In other instances, we'd agree, but Illinois is mired in an ongoing budget mess. Had they done their jobs last year, legislators would have had plenty of time to study and talk about energy providers work in Illinois, how they compare to other states, and then decide whether they wanted to roll the dice.

But inaction by lawmakers and the governor has left Illinois in a tremendous mess and without much time to make a decision on the energy industries. Businesses, residents and students already are heading for the borders; the possibility of more lost jobs, even less money and more expensive heating and cooling will drive them out even faster.

The General Assembly's spring session is scheduled to adjourn May 31. Lawmakers and the governor must move forward with these proposals. Illinois can't afford to lose any more games of chicken.

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