CLINTON — Exelon Corp. will move forward with plans to close the Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear plants, company officials said Thursday, citing a lack of progress by state lawmakers on a subsidy plan they say is needed to save the two facilities.
"This is an extremely difficult day for the 1,500 employees who operate these plants safely and reliably every day, and the communities that depend on them for support," Exelon President and CEO Chris Crane said in a statement.
Exelon had previously said it would close the Clinton plant on June 1, 2017, and the Quad Cities plant a year later if the General Assembly did not pass the Next Generation Energy Plan this spring. Its main provision would extend to nuclear plants state subsidies given to wind and solar power suppliers for the production of carbon-free electricity.
Exelon said it could not sustain operating losses totaling a combined $800 million at the two plants over the past seven years without the subsidies and some rate structure changes in the plan.
Clinton and DeWitt County officials called the potential closure devastating because the Clinton Power Station pays $15 million in property taxes each year. About 700 people are employed there.
The two plants support about 4,200 direct and indirect jobs and produce more than $1.2 billion in economic activity, according to Exelon estimates.
Exelon officials said they have begun taking necessary steps to shut down the two plants. Those will include notifying the Nuclear Regulatory Commission of the shutdowns within the next 30 days, terminating capital investment projects required for long-term operation of the plants and canceling fuel purchases and outage planning.
Exelon left open the slim possibility Thursday the closure decision could be reversed if talks move in a positive direction.
“The decision can be reversed but only in narrow circumstances, and week by week, a reversal becomes more and more difficult," said spokesman Brett Nauman. "As we have stated previously, legislation would have to be sufficient from an economic standpoint to warrant continued operation of the plant and in a time frame that would allow a reversal.”
Nauman said the company will “continue working with stakeholders to reach a viable path forward for these important assets as long as possible while staying on the planned closure timeline."
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Crane's email to employees with the news on Thursday, obtained by the Associated Press, included a plea that workers call a listed telephone line and record a message for Gov. Bruce Rauner and lawmakers in favor of the legislation.
The recorded greeting urges callers to tell lawmakers that "if they take action immediately, they may be able to stop the closures at the Clinton and Quad Cities plants and save your job."
While the spring legislative session ended Tuesday, House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said House members will meet every Wednesday through June.
The bill has sparked a heated debate between environmental groups and supporters of nuclear energy, with opponents calling the bill a bailout and those in favor saying nuclear power offers a reliable alternative to coal plants that face tough new federal clear air standards.
Michael Shellenberger, president of Environmental Progress, a California-based group that supports nuclear power, said Thursday, "If Quad and Clinton are closed, Illinois will loose one-quarter of all its clean energy, over 1,500 jobs, and its standing as a clean-energy leader."
"It is not too late to save Quad and Clinton," said Shellenberger, adding that such a move will require moderate environmental groups to "show courage and break from the dogmatically anti-nuclear groups that openly say they want to replace nuclear plants with natural gas."
The Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition, a group of renewable-energy and green companies with its own version of the legislation, said Wednesday that talks with Exelon have been productive but "more progress is necessary to arrive at a final agreement, including on the state's Renewable Portfolio Standard and protecting Illinois consumers."
Experts disagree on whether shutting the plants would raise the price of electricity.
Exelon points to a 2015 state report that found that closing them would pump up regional wholesale energy prices by 47 percent. Dave Lundy, director of the BEST Coalition opposing the plan, said price spikes are unlikely because of the amount of electricity produced in Illinois and the high cost to send it through jammed transmission lines in the Quad Cities.
The coalition claims the Next Generation Energy plan would amount to an average $3-per-month rate hike for ratepayers and a $7.7 billion windfall for Exelon over 10 years. Exelon puts the increase to ratepayers at 25 cents a month in exchange for future power stability.
Democratic Attorney General Lisa Madigan was unconvinced Thursday.
"Unfortunately, a highly profitable company is choosing to close plants because it hasn't received a blank check to impose unfair and unnecessary rate hikes on Illinois consumers," Madigan said in a statement.