SPRNGFIELD -- Hundreds of Exelon employees and supporters filled the Capitol rotunda Tuesday to rally in support of legislation the company says is essential to the future of two financially struggling nuclear power plants.

Exelon has said it needs legislative action on its “Next Generation Energy Plan” in the next week to prevent the closure of its nuclear plants in Clinton and near the Quad Cities. In part, the bill would extend subsidies similar to those enjoyed by the wind and solar power industries to nuclear plants.

Sen. Donne Trotter, D-Chicago, is sponsoring the legislation, which also includes changes to rate structures for customers and measures the company says would increase energy efficiency and jump-start solar power in the state.

Trotter thanked those who attended the rally and encouraged them to press other lawmakers to support the bill.

“There’s a saying down here in Springfield: ‘If you don’t get up and shout, you will be left out,’ ” he said.

Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, represents the Clinton Power Station, which he said provides “1,900 great jobs in central Illinois.”

“This is not a partisan issue,” Rose said. “Clean, efficient, cheap power for the people of Illinois is an Illinois issue, and this bill keeps our power rates low.”

The bill also has the backing of organized labor because the plants provide thousands of high-paying jobs for highly skilled workers and millions of dollars in tax revenue to local governments and schools, said Michael Carrigan, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO.

“We cannot afford to see a nuclear plant close,” Carrigan said.

Despite the push for support, whether the bill will be called for a vote before the scheduled end of the spring legislative session May 31 remains an open question.

Democratic Sen. Mattie Hunter of Chicago, chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee, said at a committee hearing last week that the bill needed more work before it would be ready for a vote.

Trotter said discussions among interested parties, including environmental and consumer groups and downstate power company Ameren Illinois, are ongoing. He said he and his staff are reviewing a proposed amendment suggested by Ameren.

Critics say Ameren customers would bear some of the cost of saving Exelon’s nuclear plants but wouldn’t enjoy the benefits of new energy efficiency programs that will be available to customers of Commonwealth Edison, Exelon’s northern Illinois utility.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, also a Chicago Democrat, issued a statement Tuesday in strong opposition to the bill.

“This proposal would force consumers to pay more only to boost the companies’ profits further,” Madigan said in the prepared statement. “The legislature has more important matters to address than padding ComEd and Exelon’s profits.”

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