Hearings begin today before the Illinois Commerce Commission on what will become a pivotal battle over the future of nuclear power–not only in Illinois, but across the nation.
That’s because the hearings will ultimately lead to legislation that likely will determine the fate of Exelon’s admittedly uneconomic and aging nuclear reactors in the state. And how Illinois comes down on the issue may well become a precedent for other states.
The hearings are on Illinois’ plan to reduce carbon emissions, a process every state will have to go through once the EPA’s Clean Power Plan is put into effect, probably next year. But Illinois is starting early because some of Exelon’s reactors are in dire straits and the utility wants a bailout now.
Exelon is leaving nothing to chance; as the Chicago Tribune put it Friday, “Exelon is busy pulling political strings to ensure it is rewarded financially for its nuclear power plants….”
For example, the Tribune reports that “…Exelon has taken strides to beef up its political might after repairing a long-standing tiff with House Speaker Michael Madigan.” In return, Madigan got a resolution through the state legislature last session that will result in a pile of reports. Reports designed to help Exelon. Reports “that lay out the financial, environmental and economic benefits of Exelon’s nuclear fleet in Illinois.” The Tribune noted that while more than half of Illinois’ power comes from non-nuclear sources, “none of those companies has received that kind of treatment from Madigan. A spokesman for Madigan did not respond.”
Exelon’s goal in Illinois is to replace the state’s currently non-functional Renewable Portfolio Standard with a new Clean Energy carbon-based standard that would reward Exelon’s reactors, while putting the kibosh on renewable energy investment in the state for decades to come.
And that has brought NRG Energy into the fray.
Lee Davis, executive vice president and regional president for NRG Energy’s east region, criticized the idea that existing nuclear plants should be propped up.
“We want to reduce carbon emissions, not maintain the status quo,” he said of the EPA’s goal of 30 percent greenhouse gas reductions from 2005 levels by 2030.
The goal of the carbon rule, Davis said, is to reduce carbon emissions, not to reward Exelon for something it’s been doing….
“What Exelon is asking for is state funds to support nuclear units that are now uneconomic. If they’re uneconomic today, they’re going to be uneconomic in the future,” Davis said. “We’re responding to market signals, we’re cutting our carbon emissions. We think something forward-thinking needs to be done. Introduce renewables to help you achieve your goal.”
Davis said he’d like to see the state come up with an approach to meeting carbon-reduction goals that rewards flexibility.
“What Exelon is suggesting here is, put all your eggs in the nuclear basket and just trust Exelon,” he said.
Exelon is also going after the EPA’s carbon rule, which currently encourages additional support for 6% of a state’s nuclear generation–meaning some sort of ratepayer or taxpayer subsidy for nuclear power. Exelon doesn’t think that’s enough and is urging EPA to make that number much larger–in fact, it wants EPA to add support for all nuclear power, whether or not it is currently uneconomic.
Said Exelon exec William Von Hoene, “We want this to be a marketplace solution, not a subsidy solution. We have federal subsidies for two kinds of generation: wind and solar. That’s not a market. We’re picking two specific technologies. Let’s decide: What’s the goal? Reliable? Clean? Create a marketplace that supports those goals and let the marketplace decide.”
It’s really the classic “big lie” technique. Repeat something often enough–and Exelon does–maybe people will start to believe it. In this case, that’s the notion that only wind and solar receive any federal subsidies. In fact, all generation sources have received federal subsidies, and still do. And nuclear’s subsidies have far outweighed those of any other single generating source. Loan guarantees, the Price-Anderson Act, a woefully-underfunded Nuclear Waste Fund–which is now prevented from collecting any more money. Nuclear even has essentially the same Production Tax Credit for new reactors that Von Hoene is referring to as existing only for wind and solar.
Just trust Exelon? NRG clearly doesn’t. Neither should anyone else.
August 18, 2014
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