Rep. Walsh introduces legislation to keep Illinois competitive in energy market

Rep. Lawrence Walsh (D-86 Dist.)
Rep. Lawrence Walsh (D-86 Dist.)

Illinois Rep. Lawrence Walsh (D-86 Dist.) recently introduced House Bill 3293 to create a low carbon portfolio standard in the hopes it could save three of Exelon Corp.’s struggling nuclear power plants from closing.

Walsh hopes the bill will pass before the current legislative session ends May 31. If it gets approved, it may help prevent plant closures in Rock Island, Clinton and Ogle counties.

"The Dresden and Braidwood stations are close to my district and a lot of my constituents work at those facilities,” Walsh said in a telephone interview with Power News Wire.

“If the legislation passes, it will require that 70 percent of energy comes from low or no carbon emitting suppliers,” he added.

Of that 70 percent, Walsh said Exelon could capture as much as 50 percent of the market and that, in turn, would be enough to keep the plants open, if not profitable, and help Exelon to remain competitive in the energy supply market.

Additionally, Walsh said Illinois is a leader in low and no-carbon emitting energy. “We produce enough electricity to export 20 to 30 percent of it to other states and that makes us a national exporting leader as well.”

Nuclear energy produces more clean air energy than all other sources combined and is the only one that can produce large amounts of electricity reliably, nuclear advocates say. 

A January 2015 state of Illinois report found that closing the three nuclear plants would cost the state $1.8 billion annually in lost economic activity, up to $500 million annually in higher energy costs, and as much as $1.1 billion annually due to increases in carbon and other pollutants. The plan closures also are seen costing 8,000 Illinois jobs. Once a power plant closes, Exelon officials said, it is all but impossible to reopen it.

The legislation has stronger consumer protections than any other program to promote low carbon energy in Illinois. It includes a 2 percent annual price cap that limits the impact to about $2 per month for the average Illinois household, significantly less than the increase customers would face if nuclear plants close early.

The nuclear energy supply market is experiencing a perfect storm of factors keeping it from being competitive including low natural gas prices, fracking and low demand.

Passage of the legislation, Walsh said, would be good news for the state.

“We’d stay reliable as an electricity exporter that would maintain our power supply superiority." he said. "We’d maintain the jobs and continue to be leaders in the field.”