4/27/15 - CHICAGO SUN TIMES Editorial: Exelon's rate-hike proposal is a bad bill

A bad bill in Springfield would raise our electricity bills to protect Exelon’s bottom line. The Legislature should either rewrite it significantly or flick the off switch altogether.

EDITORIAL

Exelon, which operates six nuclear power plants in Illinois, says it needs help because — although it made more than $2 billion last year —  it has lost about $1 billion in the past five years on three of its plants: Clinton, Quad Cities and Byron. The nuclear plants are having a hard time competing in the marketplace partly because plentiful supplies have driven down the price of natural gas.

The utility says it is unwilling to run any nuclear plant at a loss, though its nuclear fleet is profitable overall. It says Illinois needs all of its nuclear plants for reliability and low-carbon power generation. It also warns that 8,000 jobs in Illinois would be lost if the plants were shuttered.

To save the three plants, then, Exelon wants to raise electricity bills by $300 million a year under what it calls a market-based plan that would benefit all types of low-carbon generators of energy, including solar, wind and nuclear. The company says it is asking only for the same favorable treatment renewable energy gets.

The problem, critics accurately say, is that the bill is designed to funnel the new money into Exelon’s pockets while doing almost nothing to help generators of renewable energy.

Before Exelon digs deeper into your wallet, let’s demand at least a limited look at its balance sheet. The company says it has provided such information to legislative leaders, but does that give you much confidence? You, the ratepayers who would have to pony up, deserve a look-see, too.

Second, how is it Exelon can say it is unfair, when sizing up this bill, to consider the profitability of the company’s nuclear fleet as a whole, though all ratepayers — including Chicagoans who get their electrical power from profitable plants — would be forced to pay the surcharge? There is a feeling here of a company trying to socialize the risks while keeping the profits private.

Third, any low-carbon bill that emerges out of Springfield cannot favor Exelon. Renewable energy is the future, and the state should be making that a priority, not nuclear plants. It’s not prudent to put renewable energy at a disadvantage.

Exelon’s bill, which has both House and Senate versions, is one of three energy-related proposals on the docket in his session. Possibly, it will be rolled with others into an omnibus bill.

Whatever emerges must put ratepayers first. And it must not undercut our state’s truly green energy future.