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Clinton plant future still in limbo

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Exelon's Clinton Power Station is shown from the Ill. Route 54 bridge in 2012.


CLINTON – Exelon Corp said Thursday the future of the Clinton Power Station is still in the danger zone, even as it announced temporary reprieves for two other nuclear power plants with uncertain economic prospects.

Exelon said its Quad Cities and Byron plants had done well selling future power supplies in regional electricity supply auctions held earlier this year. Quad Cities will now continue operating through at least May 2018, and the Byron station has contractual obligations to keep it operating though May 2019.

The Clinton station sells power through a different regional system, run by an organization called the Midcontinent Independent System Operator. It was successful in bidding power for a Midcontinent auction earlier this year, but the auction results only lock in contracts for one year ahead. Exelon said that action reduced Clinton's “economic losses” but was not enough to put it in the black.

The company said Clinton will continue to face the threat of closure unless state lawmakers recast Illinois power regulations to guarantee power buys from low-carbon sources such as nuclear plants.

Exelon claims Clinton and its other at-risk stations need regulatory changes to guarantee their long-term futures. It also says making those changes will be a win-win for the state: saving the stations shields communities such as Clinton from the devastating economic fall-out closure would bring, and it improves air quality for everyone. Exelon said nuclear plants pump out greenhouse gas-free power, and are the state's best shot at meeting stringent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency air pollution standards, arriving in 2022.

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“Policy reforms are still needed to level the playing field for all forms of clean energy and best position the state of Illinois to meet EPA's new carbon reduction rules,” said Chris Crane, Exelon's president and CEO.

The regulatory changes sought by Exelon are wrapped up in pending Springfield legislation called the “Low Carbon Portfolio Standard.” It's come under fierce attack from critics who charge the new law would jack up power bills by up to $300 million a year. The critics say Exelon, which has made $20 billion in profits over the last decade and was earning $236,000 an hour in 2014, doesn't need regulatory help.

But the company insists its threat to close Clinton is no nuclear bluff. Exelon said each plant has to stand and fall on its own merits and looking at overall profitability is misleading.

“We're in business to make a living, just like everybody else,” said Bill Stoermer, Exelon's Quad Cities communications manager, who spoke Thursday on behalf of Clinton. “And if you have one component that is not profitable, you may be forced into making difficult decisions about that one facility.”

A study on local economic impact, commissioned by Exelon, estimated the loss of the Clinton station would wipe out 600 jobs and a payroll of $50 million, outside of the devastating loss to local tax rolls.


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