Illinois nuke jobs already disappearing as Exelon pushes for $500M bailout

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Between 2017 and 2020, employment at Exelon-owned plants in Illinois declined by nearly 600, according to the audit performed at the request of Gov. J.B. Pritzker by Cambridge-based Synapse Energy Economics. The average headcount per plant at the company’s six facilities in the state was 630, versus nearly 800 in 2017.

The report, when it was originally released in April, blacked out the employment numbers. But Exelon in recent days has permitted most of the report to be made public.

The two plants Exelon is set on shuttering—Dresden and Byron—together employed 1,276 people in 2020, according to the audit. Combined employment at the two nukes topped 1,600 in 2017.

Some of the decline in the average number of workers per plant is due to the centralization of functions that used to be handled on-site. A little over 300 workers shifted to corporate in that time frame, the report said. Most of them were in engineering, design and project management.

But, even accounting for the shift of workers out of the plants, Exelon’s nuclear workforce in Illinois has dropped more than 12 percent in the last three years to 3,780.

If the at-risk plants close, job losses could be mitigated by early-retirement offers, Synapse said in its report. More than one in five of Exelon’s nuke workers is 52 or older. With more than 50 workers needed to oversee the cleanup and restoration of the Dresden and Byron sites over the coming decades, coupled with a broad early-retirement offer and the transfer of some of the two nukes’ younger workers to other sites, the net job loss from closing the two plants could be reduced to 413, according to the auditor.

Exelon in negotiations with the Pritzker administration and key lawmakers this week requested more than $500 million in annual subsidies in order to keep its Illinois plants open, according to sources. Capitol Fax first reported the news yesterday. That would be more than double the $235 million per year that then-Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law in 2016 to preserve Exelon’s Clinton and Quad Cities plants.

In addition, Exelon now is hunting for subsidies for all four of its unsubsidized Illinois nukes, not just the two at imminent risk of shutdown.

“As we have said on several occasions, the same market forces that are forcing the retirement of our Byron and Dresden nuclear plants are affecting our Braidwood and LaSalle facilities,” an Exelon spokesman said in an email. “Without a policy solution that fixes inequities in the market, those plants are at imminent risk of early retirement. Exelon has recommended that proposed energy legislation include a long-term contract to support the continued operation of Dresden, Byron, Braidwood and LaSalle based on the market price forecast provided by the governor’s consultant.”

Exelon envisions a contract—discussions are centering around either five or 10 years—in which ratepayers would be reimbursed if energy prices rise from today’s ultra-low levels over the course of the deal.

The Synapse audit concluded that neither Braidwood nor LaSalle were at risk of losing money in the next five years while also recommending a modest subsidy of about $70 million annually for Dresden and Byron. Exelon and Synapse use different assumptions about the future of power prices, and Exelon also wants to build in a “risk premium” that would ensure profits of at least 10 percent at each plant, sources say.

As to the workforce cuts at the plants, the spokesman said, “There is zero connection between safety at our nuclear facilities and recent staffing reductions, which were mostly the result of normal attrition and a successful effort to prudently reduce costs across the generation business while continuing to operate our plants at industry-leading performance levels.”

Exelon has announced plans to further cut costs in its power-generation business to help compensate for hundreds of millions in losses suffered when the company’s natural gas-fired plants in Texas failed to operate during the unusually frigid week in February when much of the state was blacked out for several days. Those cuts, which will mean the deferral of some capital projects that had been planned in Illinois, won’t mean job reductions, the spokesman said.

via Crain’s Chicago Business

May 20, 2021 at 02:51PM

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