Despite ongoing federal probes into its lobbying, utility giant Exelon is pressing Illinois state lawmakers to save its failing nuclear power plants by the end of the month, president and CEO Chris Crane told analysts in a quarterly earnings call Friday.
It comes as the state is reeling from the global coronavirus pandemic, which has blown a projected budget hole as high as $10 billion over the next two years in the state’s already shaky finances. What’s more, state legislative meetings have been indefinitely postponed as legislative leaders contemplate how they can safely meet to take up legislation.
Exelon’s ask of lawmakers also comes as the company has been dealing with a federal corruption probe into its lobbying activities at the statehouse. No one at the company has been charged with wrongdoing.
The company has disclosed that it and its subsidiary Commonwealth Edison received two federal subpoenas. One regarded its lobbying. The other asked for records and communications with former Illinois state Sen. Martin Sandoval, a Chicago Democrat who pleaded guilty earlier this year to tax evasion and bribery. The Securities and Exchange Commission is also investigating the company. A company spokeswoman said Friday the investigations are ongoing.
Telling investors on Friday that “the clock is ticking,” Crane said he hopes to see the legislature take up the company’s measure for its nuclear power plants before the end of May, when the legislative session is scheduled to end. It’s possible lawmakers will vote on matters after May 31 in special sessions, though any legislation would require more than a simple majority of votes to pass.
“There’s a lot of things that have to get done in Springfield, but they also realize that this is a very important issue to address along with the state budget and some other large issues,” Crane said. “We know there’s a will to get to work, it’s just the way to get to work and how fast we can get this done.”
No formal legislation has been introduced detailing the specifics of what Exelon is seeking, though documents obtained by WBEZ show the company wants authority to keep $300 million in ratepayer dollars it’s already collected. The document states customers would not see higher rates if legislators approve the company’s request.
A spokesperson for Democratic Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker did not immediately respond to Crane’s comments. Neither did spokesmen for House Speaker Michael Madigan or Senate President Don Harmon.
But last year, a spokeswoman for the governor ridiculed Crane’s threat to shut down Exelon’s four nuclear power plants if it didn’t get help from the legislature, saying such an action would force Illinois consumers to pay $483 million more in electricity each year.
“If companies under a federal microscope believe it’s appropriate to make threats to get their way, they need to recalibrate their thinking and how they deal with this administration,” Pritzker spokeswoman Emily Bittner said. “The governor’s priority is to work with principled stakeholders on clean energy legislation that is above reproach.”
While Pritzker said Friday he is committed to working on utility legislation, he stopped far short of committing to any timetable that would see a deal with Exelon being cut this month or even this summer.
The governor made clear his preference that Exelon and its subsidiary, Commonwealth Edison, not unleash a swarm of lobbyists at the Capitol whenever legislative work resumes and underscored that there are far bigger priorities right now than addressing Exelon’s wish list.
“I’ve said we’re going to make sure that we work on an energy package for the state, and we don’t need the high-paid lobbyists to be guiding that for us,” Pritzker said Friday. “I look forward to the legislature getting together to address so many challenges that we have. But is it true there are higher priorities right now? Yes, there are, and that’s reviving our economy.”
Reporter Dave McKinney contributed.
Tony Arnold covers Illinois state politics and government for WBEZ. Follow him on Twitter @tonyjarnold.