Through incompetence and corruption, Illinois may lose two nuke reactors and their power grid

(AP Photo/Teresa Crawford)

The state of Illinois is facing a looming energy crisis almost entirely of its own making, but despite having options on the table to avert it, the state appears ready to simply let the situation continue to implode. Thanks to state policies intended to end all energy production using fossil fuels, energy producers are increasingly struggling to remain viable. This is particularly true of the state’s nuclear power plants, run by energy company Commonwealth Edison, a subsidiary of Exelon. They have been unable to compete with the cheaper natural gas-fired plants in the state and are facing a potential bankruptcy situation. Governor J.B. Pritzker has proposed a plan to have the state provide significant subsidies to Exelon to keep the plants afloat, but the state legislature has remained focused on not passing any sort of energy bill that isn’t based almost entirely on carbon reduction and renewable energy. As a result, Exelon recently submitted plans to close two of their nuke plants. Meanwhile, Exelon has been caught up in a scandal allegedly providing bribes to government officials and influencers. (Chicago Tribune)

The parent company of scandal-plagued Commonwealth Edison filed plans with federal regulators to shut down two nuclear power plants for which it is seeking state subsidies that have been caught up in stalled energy negotiations in Springfield.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has proposed a deal that would put power customers on the hook for a nearly $700 million bailout of three Exelon nuclear plants, including the plants in Byron and Dresden that are facing closure. Lawmakers returned to the Capitol in mid-June to vote on an energy policy overhaul but left town without an agreement on the timeline for phasing out natural gas-fired plants.

Exelon has argued that state subsidies are necessary for its nuclear plants, which don’t emit carbon pollution, to compete with plants that run on fossil fuels.

This problem has been dragging on for months. The legislature was supposed to vote on the energy bill in June, but couldn’t agree on a final plan. They left town without passing any legislation addressing this issue and Pritzker has been unable to build any sort of consensus to bring a deal to the finish line.

The state legislators are apparently unable to see the irony in the conflicting plans being offered and the inevitable result. The nuclear plants can’t compete with the natural gas plants because natural gas is so cheap and plentiful these days. But the state’s longer-term plan is to shut down all of the natural gas plants. The nuclear plants (which produce zero carbon emissions) currently provide 56% of the energy to the grid.

So if the state allows the nuclear plants to be shut down and then they intentionally shut down the natural gas plants, there will be nothing left but their renewable energy sources, primarily wind. Do you know how much of the state’s energy output was provided by renewables last year? Eight percent. Yes, they will be able to expand that somewhat in the future, but to think they can get to 100% in less than thirty years (the Governor’s goal) is a fantasy.

In some ways, you might be able to understand how the lawmakers didn’t want to be seen as being in bed with Exelon after the bribery scandal broke. But if I could be so bold as to offer a small bit of advice to the lawmakers of Illinois, there is a proven way to avoid those sorts of bribery scandals. Stop taking the bribes.

Meanwhile, without a way to keep the nuclear power plants afloat, the Illinois power grid is teetering on the edge of disaster. They’ve known this problem was coming for a long time. Back in May the Chicago Sun-Times (never a hotbed of conservative opinions) published an editorial warning them that they needed to get off the stick and get this bill passed. This isn’t a problem that’s going to solve itself and it won’t just go away. What will go away is the state’s ability to supply electricity. And then you’re going to see the torches and pitchforks come out in a serious fashion.