CLINTON — With the announcement last week that Exelon has scheduled two of its Illinois nuclear plants for closure, the news likely has made some local people nervous. But, Clinton Power Station is in a different position that ensures it will continue in operation through 2026.
Legislation enacted in December 2016 made it possible for the Clinton facility’s owner Exelon to make a commitment to operate the plant for an additional 10 years through its current license, which runs out in 2026. This also applies to Exelon’s Quad Cities facilities.
The two plants announced for closure last week are Byron Generating Station, located about 70 miles northeast of the Quad Cities in Ogle County, and the Dresden Generating Station, located southwest of Chicago near Morris. Exelon cited revenue losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars as the reason for the closures.
Taxing authorities in the county derive significant revenue from Clinton Power Station. Those include:
Clinton Schools - $8.37 million
DeWitt County – $1.9 million
Richland Community College – $1.28 million
V Warner Library - $564,000
Harp Township and Road District – $306,000
Deland Weldon Schools – $190,000
“We at the Chamber will do whatever we can to help keep the Clinton plant open,” said Clinton Chamber of Commerce executive director Marian Brisard. “It has been so vital to our community.”
Brisard cited the 625 jobs dependent on the power station and the far-reaching economic effects the plant and its employees have not only locally but well beyond DeWitt County.
But, as important as the economic factors are, Brisard said, “it’s not all about the money.”
She pointed out that Clinton Power Station employees perform public service work in the area and, along with plant owner Exelon, often have donated to local organizations.
“Exelon really has been a good neighbor,” Brisard said.
Exelon was one of the original supporters of the Under the Prairie Stars concert series on the square. Exelon also has donated electric fans to the Friendship Center during summer heat waves, sponsored students in the American Legion Boys/Girls State program and supported many other local programs and projects.
The Illinois Senate passed a bill on Dec. 1, 2016 to help keep Clinton Power Station open for an additional 10 years. Gov. Bruce Rauner visited Clinton High School later that month for a symbolic signing of the legislation.
The bill included energy price caps on residential, business and commercial customers, which also made it possible for Exelon to keep open its plant in the Quad Cities area.
Exelon announced early in 2016 plans to close the Clinton facility in June 2017 and Quad Cities in June 2018 because of major loss of revenue at the facilities. Exelon officials cited what they felt was state energy policy that gave an unfair advantage to emerging energy technologies, such as wind and solar energy.
Clinton tax authorities were breathing a little easier after announcement of the legislation delaying those facilities’ closure.
The Clinton School District derives a major portion of its revenue from the Clinton Power Station, and DeWitt County departments, such as the sheriff’s department, took major steps in 2016 to cut expenditures in expectation of the Exelon plant closure.
Jobs also were a major concern for plant employees and for businesses that either serve the plant or count on local spending by Exelon and its workers.
The Byron and Dresden power stations are set to close by fall 2021. Exelon officials have said current issues with the energy market make the plants less competitive.
Legislators representing the areas where the two plants are located say Byron and Dresden are victims of the Com-Ed bribery scandal involving Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. Congressman Adam Kinzinger has asked Sen. Dick Durbin to help him have the $200 million fine leveled against Com-Ed re-appropriated.
Gov. Pritzker has reactivated a working group to consider legislation to keep the plants open.
Exelon officials have said that the Clinton plant’s future after 2026 is not known.
At least two candidates running as challengers for the November DeWitt County Board election have predicted publicly the Clinton plant will not close at the end of its licensing period.
Capital News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD — Exelon Corporation on August 27 announced plans to close two Illinois nuclear power plants next year in a decision the company claims is independent of legislative energy policy negotiations.
But, in a news release announcing the closures, Exelon’s CEO said the company will “continue our dialogue with policymakers on ways to prevent these closures.”
The announcement comes one week after the governor’s office laid out guidelines for negotiation of energy legislation that include accountability measures for the state’s utility companies.
“We agree with Gov. Pritzker that policy reform is urgently needed to address the climate crisis and advance Illinois’ clean energy economy, and we support the objectives of the governor’s recent energy principles,” Christopher Crane, president and CEO of Exelon, said in a news release Thursday.
“That’s separate from today’s announcement to retire these two zero-carbon nuclear plants, which was not a decision made lightly and is one that has been in the works for some time.”
The plants tentatively slated for closure include Dresden Generating Station in the Grundy County city of Morris and Byron Generating Station just outside of the Ogle County city of Byron.
Exelon is the parent company of Commonwealth Edison, the largest utility in the state which serves approximately 3.8 million ratepayers in northern Illinois. In July, ComEd admitted in a court document to — from 2011 until 2019 — seeking to “influence and reward” a high-ranking public official identified as Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan in exchange for favorable action on legislation.
A spokesperson for Gov. JB Pritzker was critical of the company’s news release in an email statement Thursday.
“First, let’s remember that Exelon already receives a ratepayer-funded subsidy of $235 million dollars per year to run nuclear plants in Illinois,” Jordan Abudayyeh, Pritzker’s press secretary, said in an email. “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.”
Abudayyeh was referring to revenue generated through Zero Emission Credits, or ZECs, approved through the Future Energy Jobs Act, or FEJA, in 2016.
Prior to the passage of that legislation in 2016, Exelon issued a news release stating it would “move forward to shut down the Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear plants,” which both remain open after receiving the ZECs made possible by FEJA beginning in 2017. The 2016 release said those plants “lost a combined $800 million in the past seven years, despite being two of Exelon’s best-performing plants.”
Exelon’s news release Thursday said the closure of the “uneconomic” Byron and Dresden plants is necessary because they “face revenue shortfalls in the hundreds of millions.”
“We recognize this comes as many of our communities are still recovering from the economic and public health impacts of the pandemic, and we will continue our dialogue with policymakers on ways to prevent these closures,” Crane said. “To that end, we have opened our books to policymakers and will continue to do so for any lawmaker who wishes to judge the plants’ profitability.”
The governor’s office has said when it comes to subsidies such as ZECs, companies such as Exelon will have to “show their math and show the ratepayers of Illinois why they need a benefit.”
“We have seen these threats before, 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,” Abudayyeh said. “The administration looks forward to working with lawmakers and stakeholders to pass legislation centered on consumers and the climate that creates and retains good paying, union jobs in communities across the state.”
The Dresden plant is licensed to operate for another 10 years, while Byron is licensed for 20, according to Exelon. Together, the plants employ more than 1,500 full-time employees and 2,000 supplemental workers during refueling outages. They pay nearly $63 million in taxes annually and supply 30 percent of Illinois’ carbon-free energy, according to the news release.
While the company said the closure was separate from Pritzker’s recently-announced energy guidelines, the news release specifically referenced a policy difference between Exelon and the administration. That difference pertains to a Fixed Resource Requirement, or FRR, proposal, which seeks to pull the state from the multi-state capacity auctions conducted by the federally-regulated PJM regional transmission organization.
Capacity procurement is not the purchase of energy production, but the guarantee that a company will be able to produce a given amount of energy years into the future.
Proponents of an FRR say if the state is given authority to conduct capacity auctions, it can set fixed requirements for the purchase of renewable and zero-carbon energy sources.
The governor’s office disagrees with the FRR proposal and prefers a “market-based program that incorporates the social cost of carbon.”
“The proposed FRR has been the centerpiece of current energy discussions, but the first step in that FRR is to annually pay each of Exelon’s nuclear plants an amount equal to three times the current taxpayer subsidy that two Exelon plants already receive without any strings attached and without Exelon showing us their math as to why this is necessary,” according to the governor’s energy guidelines.
In its news release, however, Exelon cited “declining energy prices” and “market rules that allow fossil fuel plants to underbid clean resources in the PJM capacity auction” as driving forces of closures.
Exelon said a recent Federal Energy Regulatory Commission decision affecting the minimum offering price an energy generator can bid for PJM capacity auctions exacerbates the need for change. It also suggested it was considering further closures.
“As a result of these market rules, Exelon Generation’s LaSalle and Braidwood nuclear stations in Illinois, each of which house two nuclear units and together employ more than 1,500 skilled workers, are also at high risk for premature closure,” according to the news release.
Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, released a statement Thursday saying he would “explore options for keeping nuclear plants open”
“Independent market monitors believe these plants can be profitable,” he said in a written statement. “I intend to look into legislative options including requiring these plants be put up for sale before they can be shuttered. We owe it to these workers and communities to see if someone else can successfully run these assets.”
State Sen. Michael Hastings, a Frankfort Democrat, said the Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee he chairs “has been committed to working on legislation and consumer assistance since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and we remain committed to working with the men and women of organized labor and all stakeholders to find solutions to secure the future of clean energy in Illinois.”
Rep. David Allen Welter, R-Morris, said “disappointment” in the closure announcement “does not even begin to scratch the surface of my frustration.”
“Exelon’s plan to retire Dresden Station is a direct result of Gov. Pritzker and Speaker Madigan’s failure to bring comprehensive energy legislation up for a vote at any point during the last two years,” he said in an email statement.
An Exelon spokesperson said there is “a short window during which these decisions could be reversed if a policy solution is implemented.”
“However, we must move forward with the required regulatory notifications and take other necessary steps to prepare the plants for early retirement. The further we get down that path, the more expensive and difficult it will be to reverse course,” the spokesperson added.
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.