CLINTON – Community leaders have added their voices to the debate over the future of the nuclear power station in Clinton and two sister plants which face the risk of closure according to their owner, Exelon Nuclear.
Clinton Mayor Carolyn Peters joined the mayors of Morris, Oregon, East Moline, Braceville and Marseilles in letters sent to Gov. Bruce Rauner and top legislators like House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, stressing the importance of the plants to their cities and towns.
In their letter to Rauner, they warn of the economic fallout that would follow the closure of Clinton or the other plants in Ogle County and Rock Island.
“Illinois nuclear facilities provide thousands of good jobs; the kind of jobs you can support a family on...,” the mayors say in a letter dated Feb. 4. “Part of the upcoming debate in Springfield should focus on what these plants mean to their host communities. From our firsthand perspective, we can tell you that Illinois' nuclear facilities are essential to helping our communities thrive.”
At issue is Exelon Nuclear's claims that Clinton and the other two plants are struggling because they compete with rival suppliers like wind energy which get tax breaks. To help its plants out, Exelon is asking lawmakers to rewrite energy legislation to create a more even playing field. Ideas include a cap-and-trade credit program which would reward the nuclear plants for generating greenhouse gas-free power.
One report already compiled by state agencies at lawmakers' request said if Clinton and its sister plants did go away, it might cost $1.8 billion in annual lost economic activity and put 7,800 people out of work. The Clinton plant alone pays some $13 million a year to local taxing districts and supports more than 600 jobs.
But Exelon is also encountering significant opposition as it lobbies legislators for a better deal. A new group, Better Energy Solutions for Tomorrow, or the BEST Coalition, describes itself as a coalition of business and consumer groups and claims taxpayers are being hoodwinked by a profitable company that doesn't need favorable treatment.
BEST says Exelon won't let outsiders review its books but estimates the company was making $236,000 an hour of profit every day in 2014. It also says changes under way in the way the power grid operates will hand Exelon a windfall of $570 million a year in increased revenue in addition to whatever lawmakers may decide to do.
“It's unfortunate that Exelon has chosen to scare local communities when in fact their Illinois nuclear plants are profitable and about to get a huge infusion of ratepayer money from struggling Illinois consumers and businesses,” said Dave Lundy, a BEST spokesman.
“Exelon simply does not need a bailout. It just wants more of our money to pad their already very healthy profits.”
But Exelon says looking at the company's profitability as a whole doesn't change the challenges being faced by individual nuclear plants. And it says it would be a mistake to think its warnings on plant closure are a nuclear bluff: “We will consider all options when it comes to these three economically-challenged plants,” said Brett Nauman, a communications manager for Exelon based at the Clinton plant.
“And if we can't find a long-term path to profitability, the company is going to consider shutting down any of these plants.”