4/9/15 - CRAIN'S: Exelon's energy bill puts consumers on the hook

By BOB FLEXON, President and CEO of Dynegy

Today, Illinois consumers enjoy a competitive electricity market that has provided choice and low-cost electricity. Illinois is at the forefront of the national energy industry as a net exporter of electricity and a hub for electric transmission lines and gas pipelines.

However, despite the benefits of a free, competitive market which Exelon supported and prospered under, the parent company of ComEd, which serves customers in northern Illinois, is asking Springfield to raise electric rates for consumers, local governments and small businesses across Illinois. It's armed with legislation (SB 1585/HB 3293) and threats to close three of its six Illinois nuclear plants in northern Illinois if it doesn't get its way.

Though Exelon posted a substantial corporate operating profit in 2014, it claims the three plants can't compete. Exelon claims that its costs are too high and has threatened to close the plants unless electricity customers throughout Illinois pay higher bills through a monthly surcharge designed to create a windfall for this $27 billion company.

The Exelon subsidy comes in a package that creates a $300 million “annual revenue stream” for low-carbon energy sources including wind, solar, hydro, clean coal and, of course, nuclear.

As Crain's Steve Daniels writes, “the bill's language is so restrictive on which sources could bid for the cash that Exelon's nukes are virtually certain to get the lion's share.”

Exelon cannot unilaterally shut down a plant. Grid system operator safeguards exist to ensure reliability and protect Illinois residential, small-business and commercial/industrial customers. Plants needed for reliability must remain open, and if Exelon's plants are needed they would be compensated under the existing protocols.

There's no problem. Shouldn't we allow the existing process to address any concerns before customers send an annual $300 million check to this Fortune 500 company? It doesn't make sense that Illinois consumers and employers should be expected to subsidize plants that they already have paid for, nor should central and southern Illinois have to subsidize northern Illinois.

Now's not the time for this. We need to consider the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's national Clean Power Plan, which won't set final rules on existing power plants until this summer. The state can submit its final compliance plan as late as 2018. We should wait until Illinois has its plan in place in order to avoid unnecessary costs for citizens and businesses in Illinois.

The state's comprehensive energy plan also should consider Illinois' diverse fuel mix and resources including coal, which produces 43 percent of Illinois' energy needs—and renewables and energy efficiency measures.

Prematurely raising utility bills when it just may not be needed is not in the best interest of Illinois consumers and employers.

Bob Flexon is president and CEO of Dynegy, which owns 13 power stations in Illinois