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Energy bill threatens Southwestern Illinois jobs, legislator says

The following op-ed is from state Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville. He represents the 108th Legislative District covering a large swath of Metro East.

Late Thursday evening, the House of Representatives approved legislation (SB 2408) to put Prairie State Energy Campus located in southern Illinois at a competitive disadvantage, leaving the coal-fired power plant in my district with unachievable regulations that will lead to its closure in 2045.

I voted against this energy bill as it will put hundreds of people out of work in my district, it will increase utility rates, it will result in less farmland, smaller forests, and it will leave our most vulnerable population minutes or hours without electricity to keep their life-saving oxygen machines running to stay alive.

Most people don’t realize we already face an energy shortage. Southern Illinois has to import energy every day to meet our needs. Currently, Prairie State Energy Campus provides power for 2.5 million residents. On late Thursday night, the House adopted SB 2408 with no plan to replace the power provided to these homes.

To fill the void left by the current energy shortage, many municipalities have to turn on peaker plants, fueled by diesel and natural gas. In the proposed energy bill, natural gas plants would be gone by 2045.

Municipalities and co-ops are already doing what “clean” energy advocates want. Municipalities have already committed to utilizing 9-13 percent of renewable energy and co-ops are utilizing 17-20 percent renewable energy. They are doing so without state regulation and without increasing costs to ratepayers.

How can we trust the proposed “clean” energy legislation will be better for our environment and produce enough power to keep the lights on economically for our consumers and businesses across the state? We can’t and I will tell you why.

It will take 123,000 acres of solar just to replace the power generated by Prairie State. As of today, 80 percent of funds collected to promote clean energy is being spent on out-of-state companies for wind and solar.

As proposed in the energy bill, eminent domain is allowed to be used. This means personal property can and will be taken to install transmission lines. In other states, transmission lines bringing in green energy have been blocked by environmental groups.

If this “clean” energy bill becomes law, Illinois agriculture will lose thousands upon thousands of acres of the richest soil in the world. The result would lead to more deforestation in South America as the loss of Illinois farmland will make it necessary for the cleaning of rainforests so the world can have a sustainable food supply.

How is this good for the environment? Taking away thousands of acres of farmland in our state and eliminating thousands of acres of forests in South America? The answer is, it’s not good for the environment and it’s not good for the economy.

Hitting close to home, this energy bill will result in the loss of 651 jobs, about 4 percent of the population of my home county. In addition to the loss of hundreds of jobs at Prairie State, thousands of more jobs will be lost in the Ag industry as a result of the trickle-down affect.

Because Illinois is one of the lowest-cost energy states. Our state has generated $5 billion in revenue from new data centers locating here for reliable low-cost energy.

This energy bill is not only bad for the environment due to the loss of farmland, forests, and the fact it will not produce enough electricity to keep everyone’s lights on. We will lose data center jobs, jeopardizing $5 billion in revenue generated over the last two years, all while many California companies are looking to relocate here – even the New York Stock Exchange.

Now back to the environment. I’m not against solar, but it only produced 5 percent of the power my farm needed for seven straight days during the polar vortex this past winter. No battery will last that long.

There are questions we don’t have answers for; such as what happens when the wind and solar generators stop working; or get damaged during a natural disaster; and where will the products that came from China be thrown away? You can’t just throw windmills and solar panels away because the hazardous materials are not safe for the environment.

In closing, the energy bill approved Thursday night will result in the highest utility rate increase in Illinois history. If SB 2408 becomes law, Illinois residents and businesses will suffer from routine brownouts and blackouts just like California because of this flawed energy policy. To literally keep the lights on, I urge the Senate to reject this bill when they reconvene (this week).

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