CLINTON — The window of opportunity to reverse the decision of Exelon Corp. to close the Clinton Power Station next year continues to become narrower.
Yet, a group of Republican state lawmakers said Friday while standing in front of a group of over 100 of the plant's employees, who were seated on bleachers with the plant in the background across Clinton Lake, discussions to keep the facility open are continuing.
“Time is a factor,” said state Rep. Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth. “We've got a ways to go as negotiations continue. We've got to bring a lot of different people together.”
Mitchell said the economic impact from the plant can be felt throughout Central Illinois.
House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, isn't sure how far down the road before the point of no return is reached where closure cannot be reversed. Exelon announced June 2 plans to close the plant after lawmakers failed to approve a financial incentive plan for clean energy that includes nuclear power.
Company officials have said the closure decision can be reversed, but time is running out as it follows a series of procedural notifications. The first notification came in June as the company notified the Nuclear Regulatory Commission of its plan.
Durkin said the impact cannot be overlooked as he pledged to do whatever he can to make the negotiations go quicker.
“If the plant shuts down, it would have beyond a devastating impact,” Durkin said. “I will do everything within my power to ensure we don't lose more jobs within the state. This is no time to continue on with that terrible trend.”
Durkin said a compromise will be needed, as is the case when legislation regarding large energy-related issues are involved. He said the fact nobody has walked away from discussions is a sign that a deal remains possible.
Christian Small, the plant's manager for nuclear reactor engineering, is among the employees who are unsure of what their future will hold if the plant does close. Small feels like he is in a good spot in his career as he's worked in Clinton for 15 years after receiving a degree in nuclear engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
“We haven't given up hope,” Small said. “We'll continue to support the community whether it's next year or 20 years from now.”
Small said employees feel a close connection with Clinton and surrounding areas as they get involved in various ways, including Habitat for Humanity or the 4-H Club. Employees from the plant are the biggest supporter of the United Way in DeWitt County, said Tim Followell, Clinton city manager.
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“They call Clinton home,” Followell said. “We will survive, but we'll look and act different.”
The impact of the planned closure on taxing bodies within the area such as the county, library, schools and Richland Community College has been discussed, Followell said. The city does not receive tax dollars directly from the plant, but Followell said the impact will be felt in other ways.
The piece of property provides 50 percent of the tax base for the county, DeWitt County board member Terry Ferguson said. Mitchell said the Clinton School District receives 53 percent of its revenue from the power plant, and Richland is expecting to lose more than $1 million if the plant closes as planned.
With about 700 workers, Exelon is the area's largest employer, said Marian Brisard, Clinton Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau executive director. In addition, the plant supports 1,200 indirect jobs and contributes more than $13 million in local tax revenue to area schools and local governments.
“I'd hate to see it close,” Brisard said. “It's not too late to reverse the decision.”
Between the Clinton plant and another facility slated for closure a year later in the Quad-Cities, Exelon estimated an impact of 4,200 direct and indirect jobs with $1.2 billion in economic activity.
Discussions to reach an agreement to keep the plant open and, in turn, save jobs will continue, said State Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington.
“We'll do everything we can to keep the good paying jobs in Clinton,” Brady said.
Mitchell said the issues involved aren't based on political party affiliation. He doesn't care whether the plant employees who were behind him are Republican or Democrat.
“I just want to keep them working,” Mitchell said. “We should work together because we care about the future of Illinois. We've got too much riding on this.”
Although the legislature adjourned June 30 without a deal in place and isn't scheduled to meet again until the fall veto session in November, Mitchell expressed confidence lawmakers can be called back as soon as a deal is reached as talks have gotten “incrementally” better. He said the issue is important enough where it won't take long after that to get the legislation that is needed approved.
Mitchell said Gov. Bruce Rauner is aware of the impact of the planned plant closure and has been involved in discussions with the company. Mitchell said groups, including ones representing clean energy and the coal power industry, have participated in the discussion process.
The negotiations involve legislation that would place Illinois nuclear plants on a level playing field with renewables such as wind and solar, which receive subsidies from Illinois ratepayers.