Supporters of vetoed Illinois power line construction bill say the fight isn’t over

A utility worker tries to do his job near a power line.
Now that the tax reform bill has passed Congress, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has voted to make sure utility customers get lower bills. Julio Cortez/AP

Supporters of vetoed Illinois power line construction bill say the fight isn’t over

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(The Center Square) – Supporters of a union-backed bill that would give utility companies a near monopoly over the construction of new transmission lines vow to continue to push for passage.

The legislation would have granted existing utilities in downstate Illinois, notably Ameren Illinois, the “right of first refusal” for transmission line construction.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued what’s called an amendatory veto, striking only the portion of House Bill 3445 that deals with the right of first refusal.

“Without competition, Ameren ratepayers will pay for these transmission projects at a much higher cost,” Pritzker wrote to lawmakers.

Corey Stone with Illinois Brotherhood of Electric Workers 51 said out-of-state companies that could land these projects won’t use Illinois workers.

“These members and the members of the other Illinois labor unions who work on these transmission projects live here, are active in their community, and contribute to the Illinois economy,” Stone said during a Wednesday news conference in Springfield.

During the fall veto session, lawmakers have the option of accepting the governor’s changes, overriding the veto so that the bill becomes law as passed, or letting it die due to the veto. The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Larry Walsh, Jr., D-Elwood, said he is not optimistic of an override, so he plans to get the word out.

“We’re going to put subject matters out in the spring to convince legislators, the governor’s office, the ratepayers, the community on what right-of-first refusal actually is and the policy, and when they hear that, they’re going to agree with us that this is the right step for Illinois,” Walsh said.

The Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition applauded the governor’s amendatory veto.

“We agree with organized labor that these projects should be built with Illinois workers with the skills and training to build and operate them correctly. And we strongly support Governor Pritzker’s amendatory veto to protect consumers and ensure a process driven by our overall energy goals, not any particular company,” the group said in a statement.

The Electricity Transmission Competition Coalition also applauded the governor’s actions.

“By vetoing the ROFR provision, Governor Pritzker has powerfully stood up against utility monopoly interests and shown that he is on the side of consumers and backs lower electricity prices,” the ETCC said in a statement.

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