Illinois families continue to struggle with rising costs tied to inflation, high property taxes, and other budgetary pressures. It is said that through inflation alone, the average Illinois family is spending approximately $300 more each month on the items needed to stay fed, healthy, comfortable, and clothed.
Energy costs are also rising, but luckily, lawmakers have it within their power to reduce energy costs in the long term by bolstering the supply of clean, carbon-free energy. All we must do is pass Senate Bill 76. I am a proud co-sponsor of this bi-partisan legislation, which passed in the Senate in March. Even though this important legislation was sent to the House of Representatives for consideration 1 ½ months ago, as of this writing the House has failed to act on it. Why Democratic legislators would not support cost-saving legislation that brings utility cost relief to their constituents while simultaneously providing for an expansion of clean energy is beyond me.
This legislation would rescind an archaic law from 1987 that bans the construction of new nuclear power plants like the one in Byron. The Byron station employs over 400 people and provides carbon-free energy to over two million homes and businesses. It is a primary employer in the region, and it also sends millions in tax revenue to schools and other taxing bodies annually.
If SB 76 is approved and signed into law, it would not only provide for the construction of new nuclear power plants, but it would also create jobs, lower utility costs, and provide more reliable, clean energy for consumers.
The ban took effect shortly after the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 when there was widespread fear and concern about nuclear reactor accidents and the safe disposal of nuclear waste. Thankfully, national standards ensure that our nuclear plants are safe and do not pose a risk of harm to the public. To date, there are no reports of deaths or long-term health consequences tied to nuclear accidents anywhere in the United States.
There is no need for this moratorium to remain in place. Illinois, which already has more nuclear power reactors than any other state, has existing plants that have been producing safe, reliable, carbon-free energy without incident throughout the 36-year ban. Very few states still have nuclear power plant construction bans on the books, and states that did have them— states like Indiana, Montana, and West Virginia— have removed their moratoriums. Illinois needs to follow suit and replenish the energy lost by coal and natural gas-fired plants that are slowly going offline due to age or through Illinois’ aggressive clean energy policies.
While we have seen an increase in energy costs in Northwest Illinois, utility costs have really spiked in communities that have long relied on coal-fired plants for their energy. The Climate & Equity Jobs Act (CEJA), signed into law by Governor Pritzker in 2021, requires the elimination of carbon emissions by 2045, with privately held coal plants having to close by 2030, and natural gas-fired plants to close by 2045. Also built into CEJA are emissions reduction benchmarks that are nearly impossible to meet. While CEJA is bad public policy and I voted NO on the legislation, it is now law and unlikely to change.
The passage of SB 76 would not create any kind of mandate. It would simply provide an opportunity for communities to invest in nuclear power construction projects. Whether these projects would be for traditional nuclear power plants like the one in Byron, or for the new, smaller modular reactors, which could be located within existing infrastructure like in factories or retired coal plants, these new nuclear plants would help Illinois reach its energy goals in ways that support the ever-growing need for affordable energy. Even better, the construction of these new plants would create high-paying jobs and improve the reliability of the energy grid.
With just one week to go in the legislative session, it is time to call SB 76 for a vote.