Illinois governor-elect’s energy transition team cuts out coal

Source: Jeffrey Tomich, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Illinois Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker yesterday named his energy transition team, a list that includes prominent utility executives and environmental and labor leaders.

Conspicuously absent from the list of 30 on the incoming administration’s Powering Illinois’ Future Committee: the coal industry.

While energy and climate weren’t major issues in the governor’s race, Pritzker, the billionaire heir to the Hyatt Hotels Corp. fortune, vowed to honor the Paris climate accord and to “take steps” to put Illinois on a path to 100 percent clean energy (Energywire, Oct. 29).

The Democrat also pledged to work with communities affected by the transition away from fossil fuels.

Pritzker’s transition committee will be led by Illinois Environmental Council Executive Director Jennifer Walling; Exelon Utilities CEO Anne Pramaggiore; and John Johnson, business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 51.

Other members include Jack Darin, executive director of the Sierra Club Illinois chapter; Commonwealth Edison CEO Joe Dominguez; Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center; Ameren Illinois Chairman and President Richard Mark; Peoples Gas CEO Charles Matthews; Invenergy CEO Michael Polsky; and Melvin Williams, president of Nicor Gas.

While there’s one representative of the United Mine Workers of America on the committee, no active Illinois coal mine is represented by unions.

In a statement, Lt. Gov.-elect Juliana Stratton said infrastructure investment will be a priority for the administration.

“The committee will bring both advocacy and industry stakeholders together to put our state on a path toward mutually agreed upon projects that move us toward a clean energy economy,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, Walling said in the statement that the group wants to make clean water infrastructure and expanding energy efficiency efforts top priorities in the state.

Phil Gonet, executive director of the Illinois Coal Association, acknowledged that the mining industry isn’t excluded from Pritzker’s energy transition committee. But Gonet said he’s encouraged by Johnson’s leadership role on the committee and said he’s worked with the local labor official in the past to help keep coal-fired power plants running.

Gonet hasn’t spoken with the Pritzker team but said his message for the new governor is that Illinois isn’t ready to shift to 100 percent renewables anytime soon. And even with the nation’s largest fleet of nuclear plants, coal will remain a key part of the state’s grid and its economy.

“Coal isn’t going to go away overnight,” he said.

In fact, Gonet still sees a larger role for locally mined coal in the state’s power sector and pointed to a state task force that’s studying technology from a Chinese company to help make that happen. Currently, most of the coal mined in Illinois is shipped elsewhere, and fuel burned at power plants comes from the Powder River Basin.

Meanwhile, a looming issue for Pritzker when he takes office is a rule proposed by his predecessor’s Illinois EPA that would give Vistra Energy Corp., the state’s largest operator of coal-fired power plants, more freedom to run its dirtier, more profitable generating units (Energywire, Oct. 5).

Leaders of parties challenging the proposal before the Illinois Pollution Control Board are part of Pritzker’s transition committee, including Darin of the Sierra Club and Learner of the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

A hearing on the proposed rule is set for Jan. 29, two weeks after Pritzker is sworn in.