A $6 billion lifeline for struggling U.S. nuclear power plants is reportedly included in the nearly $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill currently being mulled over in the U.S. Senate, but it won’t be thrown in time to rescue Illinois’s Byron and Dresden plants, according to owner and operator Exelon.
In an August 4 statement on second-quarter earnings, Exelon’s president and chief executive officer, Chris Crane, noted that while his company is encouraged by the growth of federal support for policies that acknowledge the value of nuclear’s clean energy generation, “passage of legislation remains uncertain and, regardless, will come too late to save our Byron and Dresden plants from early retirement this fall. While we remain hopeful that a state solution will pass in time to save the plants, clean energy legislation in Illinois remains caught in negotiations over unrelated policy matters, leaving us no choice but to continue down the path of closing the plants.” (Last August, Exelon announced its intention to prematurely retire Byron and Dresden, citing longstanding economic pressures. Last week, the company filed decommissioning plans for the two nuclear facilities.)
That stalled legislation, a comprehensive clean energy package proposed earlier this year by Gov. J. B. Pritzker, includes some $700 million to support three of Exelon’s ailing Illinois plants, Braidwood, Byron, and Dresden. The bill’s lack of progress is largely due to disagreements between the two major stakeholder groups involved—Climate Jobs Illinois (CJI) and the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition (ICJC)—on exactly when the state’s coal plants should be retired and on prevailing wage standards. CJI is a coalition of labor unions, while the ICJC is composed of environmentalists and equity advocates.
Clean bill of ill health: In dueling letters to Pritzker and state lawmakers on August 2, both organizations declared that they were at an impasse over negotiations. “We do not take this action without exhaustive deliberation and consideration, but in addressing our counterparts’ track record over the last several weeks following the spring [legislative] session, it appears they do not share our goal of finding common ground,” CJI stated in its letter. “Rather, they seem intent on running out the clock in order to force events that actually detract from the state’s ability to generate more clean and reliable energy.”
The ICJC was no more conciliatory in its letter to the governor. “CJI’s insistence on allowing all coal and gas plants to stay open and pollute forever is something our communities and climate cannot afford or survive,” the group said. “Further, CJI continues to seek full domain over new and emerging clean energy jobs and to shut the door on opportunities for Black and Brown contractors to stake their claim in the new energy economy.”
Pritzker responded to CJI in his own August 2 letter, clearly siding with the ICJC. “The bottom line is that pointing fingers at the ICJC, whose members have already made significant compromises on decarbonization and equity provisions, is unproductive, especially after CJI has refused to send an additional written proposal that was promised to them for weeks,” Pritzker stated.
A reason for hope? Meanwhile, Sens. Sue Rezin (R., 38th Dist.) and Brian Stewart (R., 45th Dist.), along with Reps. Tom Demmer (R., 90th Dist.) and David Welter (R., 75th Dist.), issued a joint statement on August 2 calling for legislative leaders to reconvene the Illinois General Assembly at the earliest possible date to pass a specific measure to preserve the state’s nuclear fleet and extend Illinois’s renewable portfolio standard.
“If action is not taken soon, tens of thousands of workers will lose their livelihoods, millions of utility customers across Illinois will begin paying higher energy costs, and we will all suffer an immediate environmental impact equivalent to putting 4.4 million additional cars on the road, emitting carbon and other harmful sources of air pollution,” the lawmakers said. “Too much is at stake to wait for the demands of every individual interest group to be satisfied in a comprehensive energy package. We must act now to pass the provisions there is broad agreement on.”
The legislators added that negotiations on other, more long-term aspects of the state’s energy future could be negotiated between now and the General Assembly’s fall veto session in October. “Time is of the essence,” they said.