By Ted Cox
Exelon is threatening to close two Illinois nuclear power plants unless it gains concessions from Gov. Pritzker and the General Assembly.
Exelon Generation announced Thursday in a formal business news release that it plans to close nuclear plants in Byron and Morris a year from now, next fall. According to the company, the plants supply power to 4 million homes and businesses, pay more than $60 million in taxes, and together employ 1,500 full-time employees and another 2,000 supplemental workers.
Yet the company cried poor, with the release stating that “despite being among the most efficient and reliable units in the nation’s nuclear fleet, Dresden (in Morris) and Byron face revenue shortfalls in the hundreds of millions of dollars because of declining energy prices and market rules that allow fossil fuel plants to underbid clean resources … even though there is broad public support for sustaining and expanding clean-energy resources to address the climate crisis.” It warned that reactors in LaSalle and Braidwood employing another 1,500 skilled workers “are also at high risk for premature closure.”
The Governor’s Office swiftly rebuffed those claims, with spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh issuing a statement saying, “First, let’s remember that Exelon already receives a ratepayer-funded subsidy of $235 million per year to run nuclear plants in Illinois. While they couch their messaging in their desire for a clean-energy future, their primary purpose is to dramatically increase those subsidies on behalf of their shareholders.”
Exelon claims it’s at a competitive disadvantage because the fossil-fuel industry has been granted the ability to artificially underbid them on energy markets. If indeed that’s a problem, it’s only gotten worse under President Trump. Supporters of the Clean Energy Jobs Act argued earlier this year that, if enacted, it would halt Trump administration sweetheart deals that constitute “a massive bailout of the fossil-fuel industry.”
It’s a thorny issue, however, made all the more thorny by the scrutiny Exelon and its ComEd subsidiary are under after agreeing to pay a $200 million fine this summer in a delayed-prosecution agreement with the U.S. Justice Department over a bribery scheme in the General Assembly involving rate increases and sweetheart deals of their own.
Exelon is pressing for the General Assembly and the governor to alter the rules to put nuclear energy on even footing with coal and natural-gas plants. It also no doubt wouldn’t mind subsidies of the sort granted its nuclear plants in Clinton and Cordova four years ago under former Gov. Rauner that kept those reactors open.
Abudayyeh pointed to how the company made the same threats to close those plants before being granted the subsidies. “We have seen these threats before,” she said, “and this time Exelon’s threats will need to be backed up by a thorough and transparent review of their finances — including why the profits of the company as a whole cannot cover alleged operating losses at a few plants.”
August 27, 2020 at 04:12PM