6/1/15 - CRAINS: Exelon's nuke bailout DOA in Springfield—for now

By: STEVE DANIELS 

Exelon is acknowledging it doesn't have enough support in Springfield to pass its bill to hike electric bills statewide in order to keep as many as three money-losing nuclear plants open.

In a statement, the Chicago-based power company, the largest nuclear-plant operator in the U.S. and parent of Commonwealth Edison, says it hasn't made decisions yet on whether to close any or all of the hardship facilities.

“It has become apparent that the … legislation is not likely to be enacted by the General Assembly at this time, even though the current legislative session will be extended,” Exelon said in a statement. “Even so, we will continue our dialogue with Illinois policymakers regarding policy reforms which would better recognize the full value that our nuclear plants provide for Illinois.”

In the meantime, Exelon said, it will have to decide by September on the futures of its Quad Cities and Byron nuclear plants. A decision on whether to close its downstate Clinton plant must come by December.

That's because those are the deadlines the grid operator for the region including Quad Cities and Byron has established for notification on whether the plants will be bidding into next year's auction to set prices for reserving capacity during the highest-demand days of the year. The grid operator for the region including Clinton has a December deadline.

Those capacity prices, which are paid by consumers, are crucial revenue sources for the nukes.

CLOSURES? STAY TUNED

“We have not made any decisions regarding potential plant closures at this time,” Exelon said. “As our decision-making proceeds, we will provide updates—both publicly and to the many directly affected parties, most especially our employees. We are grateful for the widespread and strong support by many interests across Illinois, including labor groups, business leaders, plant host community leaders, our employees and tens of thousands of Illinois citizens.”

The news marks a rare lobbying setback for a clout-heavy company used to getting its way in the Illinois Legislature.

And it likely means that other pending energy bills pushed by Exelon subsidiary ComEd and a coalition of green groups and clean energy companies aren't going anywhere in Springfield anytime soon, either.

But Exelon's bill, which would impose a surcharge on electric bills throughout most of the state to provide hundreds of millions in additional revenue to the company's Illinois nukes, is the only one of the three that is time-sensitive. Exelon had set a deadline of May 31 for a decision from the state in order to avoid possible plant closures.

Exelon runs six nukes in Illinois, which furnish nearly half of the power consumed in the state. Three of them are losing money due to persistently low wholesale energy prices, the company says. But Exelon hasn't provided financials for the individual plants.

Its fleet as a whole in Illinois remains profitable.