Exelon says nuclear plants could close without Illinois clean energy bill

Energy Associated Press

Power-producing giant Exelon Corp. rounded out a phalanx of Illinois lawmakers and business leaders who said Thursday that three nuclear power plants could close unless consumers chip in to reward them for producing environmentally-friendly electricity.

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Legislation introduced in the House and Senate would create a financial reward for generators that produce "clean" energy which doesn't create harmful greenhouse gases. It would cost ratepayers about $2 a month on their energy bills.

It comes a week after another clean-energy proposal was proposed in the General Assembly that supporters say is more comprehensive and works to reduce consumption, something they say the latest version lacks. What will likely follow is a gladiator-style showdown among business, labor, and energy forces during a spring legislative session that has largely been consumed by focus on the state's financial crisis. The Exelon-backed plan was quickly derided as a "bailout" Thursday by a consumer group.

"The nuclear industry alone employs thousands of highly skilled laborers in our state and 8,000 of those jobs could be lost if three of our nuclear plants close," Rep. Larry Walsh Jr., an Elwood Democrat whose district includes many nuclear-plant employees, told a state Capitol news conference.

Backed by lawmakers of both parties and key labor leaders trumpeting jobs, Exelon senior vice president Joseph Dominguez said the initiative would let the company compete with other low-carbon power generators for the financial incentive, including wind, solar, water, and clean coal.

If Exelon's the low bidder in the process, it could use money to keep open nuclear plants in the Quad Cities, Byron and Clinton — and the $1.8 billion in annual economic activity they produce for those communities — Dominguez said. The stations are unprofitable in the face of competition from cheaper natural gas and wind energy.

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"What it will help us do is not make profits, but avoid losses that otherwise would be treated by retiring plants," Dominguez told a state Capitol news conference. "The right way to look at this is the consequence of losing the plants. ... The consequences are 10 times greater than the few dollars we're talking about on a monthly bill."

Consumer groups weren't having it.

"Exelon made more than $2 billion last year, and here they are begging for a bailout on the backs of working Illinoisans," AARP Illinois director Bob Gallo said in a statement. "This bill would increase rates for older adults living on fixed incomes, working families and small businesses in order to pad Exelon's profits."

Through an annual Illinois power-agency lowest-cost auction, energy distributors ComEd and Ameren, would have to buy low-carbon energy "credits" equal to 70 percent of the energy they distributed in the past year. A low-carbon generator earns a credit for each unit of clean energy it produces. Purchased credits are financial rewards for generating power without hurting the environment.

The program would end in 2021 or when the state adopts an energy plan required by the federal government.

Dominguez says the plan merely allows Exelon's nuclear generators to compete with renewable energy sources which already benefit from another Illinois credit system. But it puts restrictions on who can compete so it wasn't immediately clear how many generators would be cut out.

A group called Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition, which supports the legislation introduced last week, said in a statement that proposal is the only "comprehensive energy bill that costs less to consumers, promotes a cleaner environment and will create tens of thousands of new jobs" while establishing a long-term energy policy and aiming to reduce power consumption by 20 percent in the next decade. But the statement said it looked forward to further discussions.

A spokesman declined to say whether Gov. Bruce Rauner has taken a position on the issue.

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The bills are HB3293 and HB2607.

Online: http://www.ilga.gov

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Contact John O'Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor