Reason for Illinois paying $694 million to keep nuclear plants open

Reason for Illinois paying $694 million to keep nuclear plants open


  • Illinois lawmakers decided to pay up to $694 million over the next five years to keep a few nuclear power facilities operational.
  • Exelon, the plant’s operator, claimed that the facilities were losing hundreds of millions of dollars and that nuclear power couldn’t compete with low-cost natural gas and subsidized wind and solar power.
  • Critics claim Exelon had the state by the throat and that long-term solutions are required to make renewable energy more affordable and accessible.

Efforts to keep most money-losing nuclear plants open

Illinois lawmakers decided in September to spend up to $694 million from energy customers over the next five years to keep six money-losing nuclear power facilities operational.

Nuclear energy emits no greenhouse gases, implying that it can help to reduce carbon emissions. However, nuclear power facilities nowadays typically cannot compete on price with cheaper conventional energy sources, such as natural gas and government-subsidized renewables.

Significance of nuclear today

Exelon Generation stated in August 2020 that two of its Illinois nuclear power reactors would be retired in the fall of 2021, kicking off the newest struggle. Dresden was set to close in November 2021, while Byron was set to close in September 2021. Exelon said the reactors were losing hundreds of millions of dollars, but it wouldn’t provide reporters with specific amounts.

“It’s like a parent dangling their keys and saying ‘I’m leaving…’ when their kid won’t put down the video game controller and get in the car,” Cicala said.

Exelon claims that forcing it to participate in an open competitive energy market where carbon-emitting energy sources can freely spew their trash into the atmosphere is unfair. Nuclear power facilities, on the other hand, must adhere to stringent and costly waste management requirements.

The reason behind nuclear plants losing money

Nuclear power stations built decades ago, according to proponents, simply cannot compete economically with alternative kinds of energy in today’s market in the United States. Energy prices have fallen across the board as a result of ultra-cheap natural gas, and nuclear power plants have failed to cut costs and remain competitive.

According to Kathleen Barrond of Exelon, “the pattern you’ve been seeing across the country of premature nuclear retirements is all about economics.”

Exelon owns and operates power plants in the Midwest, the Mid-Atlantic, the Northeast, Texas, and California. In 2020, nuclear power accounted for more than 85 percent of total output, with natural gas accounting for the majority of the rest.

Although the final deal was controversial, it included some odd political coalitions, giving optimism for similar concessions in the long-term transition to carbon-free energy.

Nuclear power is not considered clean energy by certain environmental organizations. This is due to the carbon emissions required to build a plant and the poisonous waste that must be kept for an extended time. However, to satisfy Illinois’ short-term carbon-emission goals, they were willing to join forces with nuclear power companies.

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