On Friday Illinois Governor Quinn took bold action to protect Illinois ratepayers from a gas rate hike to subsidize the coal-to-gas plant proposed by New York-based Leucadia National Corporation. The proposal has come under fire from community residents concerned about the millions of pounds of air pollution Leucadia could add to Illinois' air. Strong opposition has also come from businesses, consumer groups, school advocates, and others who don't want to be forced to pay, through their gas bills, for Leucadia's overpriced gas. Leucadia's gamble could cost Illinois $8.7 billion over the 30 years that ratepayers would be compelled to underwrite it.
Given Leucadia's exorbitant price and nonexistent plans to deal with their pollution, they have apparently been totally unable to attract financing from private investors. With no confidence from the financial community, Leucadia turned to a political power play in an effort to force Illinois ratepayers to pay for it. Why would Springfield agree? Well, Leucadia may lack appeal as a business proposition, but they do not lack for clout. With high-powered lobbyists, and by waiting until literally final hours of a chaotic legislative session to put their proposal up for a vote (the Senate approved the bill shortly before midnight May 31st), facts mattered little in the General Assembly's debate.
Thank goodness that facts mattered to Governor Quinn, who did the right thing Friday. Will it be the end of Leucadia's misadventure? We can only hope -- but if history is any guide, we can expect a power play when the General Assembly reconvenes after the election, and an attempt by Leucadia to override Quinn's veto.
Bad ideas have a way of staying alive in Springfield, but there is reason to hope that the era of sweetheart deals for coal plants may be ending. Power Holdings finally gave up on a similar project this summer after realizing the economics didn't add up. Tenaska, the leader of the pack of out of state companies looking for a bailout from Illinois ratepayers, failed to get a vote this Spring for its own overpriced long-term contract, and has been coy about plans for the future.
Governor Quinn has long been a champion for creating jobs in clean energy sources and for protecting consumers from rate hikes. Those should be Illinois' priorities going forward in maximizing the benefits of the clean energy economy for our state. Let's hope Friday's action by Quinn is a big step in that positive direction.
In the meantime, thanks, Governor, for your leadership.
Add your name to our thank-you card to Governor Quinn here.
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