Nuke subsidies possible in energy bill still being crafted

While the Illinois Legislature’s spring session deadline of May 31 has come and gone, work is still being done with an energy bill that’s expected to include subsidies for nuclear power generation.

Early Tuesday morning, Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, said discussions on an energy bill that could have subsidies for nuclear power were close, but not quite there.

“Well that’s a complex issue,” Welch said. “We were close and we’re going to continue to work on it and hopefully we’ll have something soon.

State Rep. David Welter, R-Morris, said Tuesday that Welch should call members back “within the next week” to appease nuclear generation companies that have threatened to close.

“This is not a game of brinksmanship that we want to play on this topic,” Welter said. “If we do not pass something here within the next week or two I don’t believe that (Exelon) is going to go past their operation dates that they have put out there.”

Last August, Exelon Generation announced it planned to retire nuclear generation stations in Byron in September 2021 and the Dresden plan in Welter’s district in November 2021. The utility claims it faces revenue shortfalls in the hundreds of millions of dollars because of declining energy prices.

Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, Tuesday said he’s ready to return to vote on an agreed bill when it’s ready.

“I’m informed that an agreement has been reached between the governor and Exelon on a proposal that would save jobs, which has been our goal all along,” Harmon said in a statement Tuesday afternoon while the Senate was in session. “That’s why we support the governor in these talks.”

“The Senate remained in session with the hope of voting on an agreement today,” Harmon said. “We stand ready to return to the Capitol when the governor’s plan is ready for action.”

How much taxpayers would be on the hook isn’t yet known, but it could be hundreds of millions of dollars.

Welter couldn’t say how much taxpayers would be on the hook.

“It depends on the term, the length of it,” Welter said. “We just need to see that language. I hear it’s going back-and-forth right now.”

In his first public appearance in nearly two weeks Tuesday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker also couldn’t say what level of subsidies there’d be, but promised the utility is not writing the bill.

“But ultimately they’ve got to be some part of the conversation because we want to keep those jobs and we want to keep those plants open and that’s been a firm principle of mine, I’ve said that from the beginning, while we’re also working toward a clean-energy future,” Pritzker said.

Pritzker said he maintains his goal of ending coal-generated power in Illinois within the next 14 years.

“Such a bailout would ostensibly save the 1,200+ jobs at the Dresden and Byron nuclear plants – at a cost to ratepayers of ~$500,000 per job,” said David Kraft of the group Nuclear Energy Information Service. “Theoretically, that’s progress. The 2016 bailout ‘saved’ nuclear plants jobs at the tune of $1.5 million per job.”

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