In 2015, Exelon threatened to shut down up to six of its nuclear power plants in Illinois due to the plants’ unprofitability and the reduced price of coal and natural gas energy sources — unless Exelon received a government bailout from the state. The company claimed it needed direct taxpayer subsidies to keep three unprofitable nuclear power plants open.
Exelon later backed off its threat to close the nuclear plants and, instead, supported a different rescue plan effort: the establishment of a low carbon portfolio standard, which would have required 70 percent of the electricity used in utilities’ distribution systems to come from qualified low carbon-dioxide sources, including solar, wind, hydro, nuclear, tidal, wave and clean coal. Utilities falling short of the 70 percent mark would have had to buy credits to make up the difference. Crain’s Chicago Business reports the rescue plan, which Exelon has also backed away from in recent months, would have charged ratepayers $300 million annually.
In May, Exelon announced another new rescue plan. This time, Exelon plans to close two cash-strapped nuclear plants — one in Clinton in central Illinois and one in the Quad Cities area on the Mississippi River. The new approach would be considerably less lucrative for Exelon than the 2015 rescue plan, which would have imposed monthly surcharges on electric bills statewide, but it is still a form of crony capitalism that requires taxpayers to support private businesses and should therefore be avoided.
According to Crain’s Chicago Business, ComEd, which is owned by Exelon, is touting this latest rescue plan as part of a pathway toward a clean-energy future in Illinois. To move its plan forward, ComEd has allied itself with environmentalists who are committed to revamping the state’s clean-energy law, which for largely technical reasons is supporting next-to-no renewable power development in Illinois.
Exelon and ComEd plan to support comprehensive legislation — called the Next Generation Energy Plan — that will comprise major elements of three bills that did not win approval in the past session of the Illinois General Assembly. This comprehensive legislation would overhaul the law to ensure $140 million per year is available for new solar projects in Illinois.
In 2015, ComEd said its reason for needing taxpayer funds to keep multiple nuclear power plants open is to keep people employed. But now, ComEd says it needs support to keep multiple nuclear power plants open to “drive Illinois’ clean energy future while saving and creating jobs and strengthening the state’s economy.”
Illinois’ current renewable portfolio standard mandates 25 percent of power distribution be composed of renewable energy — not including nuclear — by 2025. The average retail price of electricity in Illinois is already 20 percent higher than in Indiana, 24 percent higher than Iowa’s, and 25 percent higher than in Missouri. This means Illinois residents and businesses already pay $2.1 billion per year more for electricity than they would at Indiana prices and $2.5 billion more than they would at Iowa or Missouri prices.