Exelon seeks right to export power from big Illinois nuke
Exelon’s Byron nuclear plant has helped keep the lights on in northern Illinois for three decades. But the two reactors near Rockford could soon power other parts of the Midwest.
The Chicago-based electricity giant, the largest nuclear power operator in the U.S., struck an agreement last month with the grid manager for most of the Midwest to sell Byron’s output to southern Illinois, Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin.
It’s the first time ever Exelon has sought to export power from one of the Illinois nukes built by Commonwealth Edison (now a unit of Exelon) decades ago and financed by Chicago-area ratepayers.
The action could raise questions about the wisdom of the law signed late last year by Gov. Bruce Rauner to subsidize two other Exelon-owned nukes in Illinois. State lawmakers and Rauner responded to Exelon’s arguments that losing the output from those plants would raise electricity rates here.
Now the persistent power glut in the northern part of the state is helping keep wholesale electricity prices so low that Byron, built to serve Chicago, is looking elsewhere for opportunity. And if it finds it, prices may increase in the Chicago area over and above the electric bill surcharges Illinois residents will pay to keep the at-risk nukes running.
Exelon executives have identified Byron as one of three financially ailing Illinois nukes in a fleet of six. The Future Energy Jobs Act enacted late last year will provide up to $235 million a year in ratepayer subsidies to two other more distressed Exelon plants, Quad Cities and Clinton.
Some industry observers have speculated that Exelon will eventually seek state subsidies to keep Byron open, too. After all, Byron is larger than Quad Cities (2,347 megawatts versus 1,871 megawatts) and newer (mid-1980s versus early 1970s).
For now, though, Exelon is considering boosting revenue at Byron by supplying markets that could experience power supply shortages in the future. They include southern Illinois, where closures of coal-fired plants have the regional grid operator warning of potential future reliability issues.
There will be enough juice to keep the lights on downstate this year, says a spokesman for Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), which oversees the grid in all or parts of 15 states including downstate Illinois.
But “short-term, year-to-year projections only reflect a single year commitment of resources,” Jay Hermacinski says in an email. “A viable mechanism is needed to signal longer-term investment in capacity resources to ensure resource adequacy in southern Illinois.”