Illinois passes clean energy legislation, preserves Exelon nuclear plants

Published on September 14, 2021 by Chris Galford

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Legislators in Illinois voted on Monday to approve Senate Bill 2408, a clean energy bill designed to save the state’s nuclear energy industry by providing approximately $700 million for Exelon Generation and eliminating private and government-owned coal facilities alike by 2045. 

The legislation passed the same day that the Byron nuclear plant were scheduled to go offline, and among its immediate effects will be salvation for thousands of jobs both at Byron and the Dresden nuclear plants. Exelon promptly announced it was prepared to refuel both plants as a result of the passage, and Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker pledged to sign the bill swiftly into law. 

“After years of debate and discussion, science has prevailed, and we are charting a new future that works to mitigate the impacts of climate change here in Illinois,” Pritzker said in a statement. “SB 2408 puts the state on a path toward 100% clean energy and invests in training a diverse workforce for the jobs of the future. Illinois will become the best state in the nation to manufacture and drive an electric vehicle, and equity will be prioritized in every new program created. SB 2408 puts consumers and climate at the forefront, prioritizing meaningful ethics and transparency reforms, and institutes key ratepayer and residential customer protections.”

Under the legislation, renewables will be scaled up as investments are made in electrification. New job training programs and labor standards will be rolled out as well. Most importantly for Exelon, the bill tweaks regional energy markets to compensate nuclear plants for clean energy benefits on similar levels as wind and solar, while opening a pathway for the state to procure carbon mitigation credits from these plants. Currently, more than 60 percent of Illinois’ electricity consumption and around 90 percent of its carbon-free energy comes from Exelon’s six nuclear plants in the state. 

“We commend the Governor, the General Assembly, our partners at IBEW Local 15 and the coalition of labor leaders and members who worked so hard to pass this roadmap for rebuilding our economy and addressing the climate crisis by investing in clean energy in a way that ensures that jobs and environmental benefits are shared equitably,” Christopher Crane, president and CEO of Exelon, said. “This new policy offers a better future for the employees who have run these plants at world-class levels, the plant communities that we are privileged to serve and all Illinoisans eager to build a clean-energy economy that works for everyone.” 

The plan will also retire coal facilities in two batches: private coal plants by 2030 and local government facilities by 2045. Further, Prairie State in Marissa, Illinois, and City Water, Light & Power in Springfield, Illinois, must reduce their carbon emissions 45 percent by 2035, with leeway granted for plants until 2038 before generating towers have to be retired. 

Both Byron and Dresden stations, owned by Exelon, have until now faced millions of dollars worth of revenue shortfalls the company blamed on outdated market rules that let fossil fuel plants underbid them in regional electricity markets. The Braidwood nuclear plant was headed toward a similar path, but the legislation opens a chance to keep it running.

Exelon said the according to an independent consulting firm, replacing the carbon-free energy from Byron along with renewable resources would have taken $29 billion. By keeping these plants in operation, the state is also significantly further along on its 2025 greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal.