By Suzanne Herel
A coalition of scientists and environmentalists last week published an open letter to Illinois legislators, urging them to keep all of the state’s nuclear plants operating for their full lifetimes.
The appeal lent support to legislation that would shore up Exelon’s struggling Byron, Quad Cities and Clinton nuclear plants with $300 million per year that would be paid by Commonwealth Edison and Ameren ratepayers.
“One study found that world nuclear energy has prevented an average of 1.8 million premature deaths from fossil fuel pollution and could prevent up to 7 million additional ones in the future,” said the letter, posted on the site of Environmental Progress Illinois. The group was founded recently by Michael Shellenberger, a former anti-nuclear activist who now is an avid proponent. “Using the same methodology, Clinton and Quad [Cities] prevented 18,640 premature deaths from coal pollution,” it said.
The state’s nuclear plants are at risk, the letter continues, because they are excluded from state and federal clean energy subsidies that are available to wind and solar power. Wind and solar, which make up about 6% of the state’s generation, are intermittent and wouldn’t be able to replace the nuclear facilities, it said.
“One solution might be to expand Illinois’ renewable portfolio standard to include nuclear energy,” it said. “Such a change would allow Illinois to be more ambitious, achieving 70% or more of its electricity from clean energy.”
Among those signing the letter were climate scientist James Hansen, 1976 Nobel Prize winner in physics Burton Richter and Steve McCormick, former CEO of the Nature Conservancy.
Exelon supporters introduced the proposed Low Carbon Portfolio Standard in February 2015, and the company said it would close the three plants unless legislators acted before their summer break (HB3293, SB1585). When the bills languished, Exelon pulled back from the threat, saying, “We remain open to participating in any and all discussions designed to enact a legislative package.”
In late summer, Exelon nuclear units cleared capacity worth $1.6 billion in PJM’s first auctions under its new Capacity Performance model. Among the plants that cleared were Quad Cities, obligated to run through May 2018, and Byron, committed to run through May 2019. Following the auctions, CEO Chris Crane said the company would defer a decision about the plants’ closure for another year.
In November, Crane said that Quad Cities was breaking even, but on a fourth-quarter earnings call in February, he said that it was projected to drop back in the red as a result of low energy price forecasts. It and Clinton are still at risk of being closed, he said.
Exelon supporters introduced the portfolio standard on the heels of a dueling measure, the Clean Energy Jobs Bill (SB1485, HB2607). That bill, which is supported by environmental and consumer advocates and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, would benefit energy efficiency and wind and solar power.
Exelon’s ComEd also proposed legislation that contains initiatives the company said will “strengthen the security and resiliency of the grid, the construction of microgrids, community solar projects and the expansion of energy efficiency programs” (HB3328, SB1879).
There has been no action on any of the bills since October.
Asked last week about the status of its legislation, Exelon spokesman Paul Adams said, “Exelon, ComEd and [supporters of the Clean Energy Jobs bill] are in the midst of ongoing conversations to drive toward a comprehensive energy policy for the General Assembly to consider. Those conversations have been productive and have focused on common interests among the various groups toward an integrated low carbon energy future that fairly serves all customers, encourages economic growth and creates jobs.”