Consultant says legislation needed to boost Illinois' nuclear power industry

To halt the closure of Exelon Corp.’s nuclear power plants in Rock Island, Clinton and Ogle County, a utility consultant and former member of the Illinois Commerce Commission says legislation should be adopted to level the playing field for nuclear energy providers.

If the plants close, millions of dollars in economic activity will be lost, thousands will lose jobs, and the state would lose about $290 million in state and local taxes and nearly $1.1 billion in federal taxes each year. Stanford Levin, who is also professor emeritus of economics at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville, said closing the plants would increase energy prices, according to a study ordered by the Illinois General Assembly.

“By the study’s estimation, if the plants close wholesale [energy] prices raise between 8 to 10 percent a year, or between $307 million to $437 million a year,” Levin said. 

Nearly half of Illinois’ power comes from nuclear power plants. The plants are in dire financial straits because they are not adequately compensated for providing no-carbon emissions as solar and wind energy companies are from various government subsidies and programs.

Levin said wind and solar generators do not put out as much energy as nuclear plants, and because wind is not a constant source of energy, it can only be purchased when it is available. “You can’t turn a nuclear plant on and off. Wind power only operates part of the time,” Levin said.

Levin argues that would put the state in the position to use fossil fuels as a backup, but added that creates the threat of violating carbon emission laws. Without energy coming from a guaranteed source such as nuclear power, that would put pressure on power grids. 

For those reasons, Levin said the only answer is legislation such as the proposed Illinois Low Carbon Portfolio Standard. If passed, it would require the two largest utilities in Illinois, Exelon and Ameren, to purchase low carbon energy credits. Seventy percent of that energy would then come from no or low-carbon sources, such as nuclear, wind and solar, allowing the nuclear industry its fair chance at profitability.

“It’s just like purchasing a personal seat license,” Levin said. “You pay to get the right [to sell]. In this case, the money goes to the energy provider. This legislation puts money in their [energy provider’s] pockets.”