Exelon warns Illinois plant closures would cut jobs, stem economic activity

Exelon Corp. said if three of its ailing Illinois nuclear energy facilities in Rock Island, Clinton and Ogle County close, millions of dollars in economic activity and thousands of jobs will be lost.

“If we shut down the plants in question the state would lose $1.8 billion in economic activity and we’d lose close to 8,000 jobs, jobs held by employees at the plant or reliant on the plants,” Exelon spokesperson Paul Elsberg said. Additionally, Exelon’s nuclear facilities in Illinois are estimated to contribute about $290 million in state and local taxes, and nearly $1.1 billion in federal taxes each year.  

Nearly half of Illinois’ power comes from nuclear power plants, but Elsberg said the nuclear power industry is struggling in Illinois due to a combination of factors. “We have low natural gas prices, fracking has created a glut of natural gas that has driven down prices, and we’ve seen a slow growth in demand,” he said.

To exacerbate the situation, consumers are using less electricity, the economy is still suffering from the recession, and federal and state energy policy fails to properly value nuclear power for the clean and reliable attributes it creates, Elsberg said.

“There are subsidies and or programs that assign value and reward low-carbon electricity but not for nuclear energy providers,” he said. Energy producers that benefit are no-carbon emission energy producers in wind and solar.

Elsberg said Chicago-based Exelon is doing all it can to stop the bleeding.

“We’re operating our plants extremely well, more efficiently, despite the fact we’re running them at world class levels [90 percent] capacity. It’s not enough to overcome the market subsidies and conditions that prevent us from being profitable,” he said. 

Elsberg said the way to profitability is to level the playing field by allowing nuclear energy providers to have access to the same subsidies non- or low-emission energy producers that wind and solar enjoy.

“We’re also advocating for policy so we can compete with other low-carbon electricity sources,” he said, adding the company supports the Low Carbon Portfolio Standard, House Bill 3293 and Senate Bill 1585.