Illinois governor backs limited aid to two nuclear plants
The office of Illinois governor J. B. Pritzker last week unveiled an ambitious energy plan for the state that includes limited subsidies for the financially ailing Byron and Dresden nuclear plants. (In August 2020, Exelon Generation announced that the two Illinois facilities would close this year—Byron in September and Dresden in November—without some form of compensation from the state, due to “market rules that favor polluting power plants over carbon-free nuclear energy.”)
The new plan, dubbed the Consumers and Climate First Act, calls for achieving 100 percent clean energy generation in Illinois by 2050 and recognizes nuclear as a means toward that end. “In the near term, the closure of nuclear plants in Illinois is likely to result in a generation gap that will be filled by dirty energy, namely fossil fuels,” the act states, adding that any support for nuclear should be “short-term and based on clearly demonstrated need.”
Getting in on the acts: The 900-plus-page Consumers and Climate First Act was introduced on April 29 in the Illinois Senate by Sen. Celina Villanueva (D., 11th Dist.) as S.B. 2896 and in the House of Representatives by Rep. Kam Buckner (D., 26th Dist.) as H.B. 4074. It joins a number of other hefty energy policy measures currently under consideration in the state legislature, including the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA), promoted by a coalition of environmental, consumer, and community groups; the Path to 100 Act, supported by the renewables industry; and the Climate Union Jobs Act (CUJA), a union-backed bill. CEJA and CUJA also include specific provisions that could potentially offer a lifeline to Byron and Dresden.
Details: The Consumers and Climate First Act would provide compensation to Exelon at $1.00/MWh ($19 million per year) for Byron and $3.50/MWh ($52 million per year) for Dresden from 2021 through 2025. Payments in any of those years would be subject to an independent audit to determine the financial status of the plants. Should the audit find that the plants don’t require compensation at the stated rates to remain viable, payments would be reduced to the level of assistance necessary.
Further, if a plant receives compensation and is then retired, the plant owner would have to reimburse the state for any funds received up to the date of retirement, unless the Illinois Commerce Commission determines that the owner made a good faith effort to sell the facility prior to its retirement.
The Pritzker plan also includes a carbon fee. Owners or operators of large greenhouse gas–emitting units would be required to pay a fee of $8.00 per ton of CO2 emitted from July 1, 2021, through December 31, 2021. In each subsequent year, the fee for each unit would be based on the tons of CO2 emissions from January through December, plus 3 percent.