In Illinois, the nuclear age comes creaking to a halt
In the glory days of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when nuclear power generation held the promise of electricity “too cheap to meter,” Illinois jumped in with both feet. Fourteen nuclear generating plants were built at nine sites across the state. The 11 that remain provide half of the state’s electricity.
But now those plants are getting old. Like any piece of complex equipment, the older a nuclear station gets, the more it costs to operate and maintain. Exelon Corp., the multistate holding company based in Chicago that owns 23 reactors among its operations around the country, has announced plans to close three reactors at two sites in Illinois. Unless, of course, the state would like to bail it out.
Here’s a $34.5 billion company that earned $2.2 billion last year, operating monopoly utilities, that for two straight years tried to convince Illinois lawmakers to cover its losses. Exelon wanted permission to pass on an estimated $170 million in costs to taxpayers and ratepayers in each of the next six years. The idea’s not dead, but it’s on life support.
The Legislature and Gov. Bruce Rauner, a year into their staring match over the state’s budget crisis, are too busy to entertain Exelon’s request. The Republican governor generally supports it. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan calls it a bailout and opposes it. But it’s not like the state has a spare $170 million in its budget. If it had a budget.
So Exelon is moving forward with plans to shut down the two reactors at its Quad Cities plant in Cordova in 2018 and the single reactor at its Clinton plant next year. In all, about 1,500 workers would lose their jobs. Local economies would be rocked. Workers knew this day was coming, but it doesn’t make it any easier now that it’s here.