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The Clinton nuclear power station.

SPRINGFIELD – The fate of three nuclear power plants in Illinois is in limbo as lawmakers are poised to end their spring session without acting on legislation designed to help the owner of the electricity generating facilities.

Exelon Corp. issued a statement Wednesday saying it won't make a decision on the future of its plants in Clinton, Cordova and Byron until after lawmakers adjourn their spring session at the end of the month.

"We remain open to participating in any and all discussions designed to enact a legislative package. The session is still in progress, and we will consider next steps after it has concluded," Exelon spokesman Paul Elsberg wrote in an email.

At issue are a handful of energy-related proposals circulating in the statehouse this spring. Exelon-owned Commonwealth Edison wants the General Assembly to approve a law allowing the company to impose a surcharge on all electric bills on customers served by ComEd and Ameren Illinois.

The company said the plants are struggling because they compete with rival suppliers such as wind energy that get tax breaks.

The estimated $1.8 billion raised over six years through the company's so-called "Low Carbon Portfolio Standard" would help prop up the nuclear plants.

By contrast, one report said closing the plants would cost $1.8 billion in annual lost economic activity and put 7,800 people out of work. The Clinton plant pays an estimated $13 million a year to local taxing districts and supports more than 600 jobs.

A second utility proposal is backed by a coalition of wind energy firms and environmental groups. A third group backed by downstate lawmakers is calling on negotiators to consider Illinois' coal industry as part of any final proposal.

But, the chairwoman of a key House panel said talks won't be completed by the General Assembly's May 31 adjournment.

"I think what will end up happening is, we'll compromise. We'll get everybody to the table, and we'll compromise on one omnibus bill," House Energy Chairwoman Linda Chapa LaVia, D-Aurora, told WUIS radio Tuesday.

State Rep. Mike Smiddy, D-Hillsdale, is co-sponsoring the legislation. He said the 800 well-paying jobs at the Cordova plant are "vital" to his district.

"They provide a huge economic boost," Smiddy said.

Smiddy said he, too, is in a "wait and see" mode as the session comes to a close.

"Who knows what's going to happen? Things can happen quickly here," Smiddy said.

State Rep. Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth, said keeping the Clinton plant open is extremely important for his district.

"It has a huge economic impact. I'm still cautiously optimistic there will be some resolution to this," Mitchell said.

State Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said the results of a recent annual electricity rate auction showing that rates could spike throughout Central and Southern Illinois complicated matters because it appeared the Clinton plant could be a big money-maker for Exelon without the proposed rate hikes.

"I'm still evaluating what that auction meant," Rose said.

Elsberg said the company is committed to pursuing its proposal.

"We continue to believe the Low Carbon Portfolio Standard is needed to preserve the state’s low-carbon energy leadership and the enormous economic and environmental benefits that come with it. We are continuing to educate policymakers and others about the benefits of the LCPS and the continued operation of the state’s nuclear energy facilities," Elsberg wrote.

kurt.erickson@lee.net|(217) 782-4043

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Springfield Bureau Chief for the Herald & Review

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