Exelon Wants Help To Save Dresden, Byron and Braidwood Nuclear Power Plants

Byron nuclear power plant

Byron nuclear power plant

Exelon could close three nuclear plants in northern Illinois, which together power the equivalent of 5.5 million homes in the region. Exelon issued the warning about the potential for “early retirement” of its Byron, Dresden and Braidwood nuclear stations in a Feb. 8 Securities & Exchange Commission filing. 

Braidwood, located in Will County, and Byron, near Rockford, have operating licenses from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that don’t expire until the late 2040s. One of Dresden’s two reactors in Grundy County is licensed until 2029 and the other until 2031.

Dresden, Byron, and Braidwood nuclear plants in Illinois are showing increased signs of economic distress, which could lead to an early retirement, in a market that does not currently compensate them for their unique contribution to grid resiliency and their ability to produce large amounts of energy without carbon and air pollution.

The earliest the company could move to shutter Dresden is 2021. It’s committed to operating Dresden until June 2021 with regional grid managers. But Dresden bid was too high to qualify for “capacity” payments from consumers in northern Illinois in the most recent auction held by PJM Interconnection, which is responsible for managing wholesale power markets in all or part of 13 states and the District of Columbia from Illinois east to the mid-Atlantic.

The earliest Exelon could move to close Byron and Braidwood is mid-2022. Those plants have committed with PJM to operate until then.

Dresden nuclear power plant

Dresden nuclear power plant

That gives the state some time to determine what to do about potential closures. Springfield could act on wide-ranging energy legislation as early as this session, but its timetable depends at least in part on actions not yet taken by federal energy regulators.

Braidwood nuclear power plant

PJM has proposed changes to its capacity auction—how it determines prices all consumers and businesses pay to plants for their promise to produce during the highest-demand periods of the year. State energy regulators have criticized those proposals as “punishment” for Illinois’ 2016 decision to subsidize two other Exelon-owned nukes that were slated to close, its Quad Cities station on the Mississippi River and its Clinton plant in central Illinois. If the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approves PJM’s changes, the state could well move to take over the responsibility of adequate power generation from PJM.

In the short term, it’s highly unlikely that Exelon would be permitted to close all three plants should it come to that. The loss of all three could well jeopardize adequate power supplies to the nation’s third largest city.

But recent capacity auctions have made clear that northern Illinois enjoys a glut of power supplies currently. The closure of a single nuke clearly wouldn’t jeopardize that.

Braidwood nuclear power plant

Braidwood nuclear power plant

Capacity isn’t the only issue, though. Nuke closures could threaten Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s goal of eventually powering Illinois only through sources that don’t emit carbon. Exelon has been successful arguing that carbon-free nukes are a crucial component of state plans to address climate change by “de-carbonizing.”

Pritzker’s predecessor, Gov. Bruce Rauner, signed the last wide-ranging energy bill, the Future Energy Jobs Act, which slaps a surcharge on electric bills statewide to funnel more than $200 million a year to Exelon’s Quad Cities and Clinton nukes.  (Crain’s Chicago Business, 2/19/2019)