Thanks to scandal, though, the company he’s staring down, Exelon, isn’t the potent force in Springfield it was nearly five years ago when Bruce Rauner signed into law $235 million a year in subsidies to keep open two other nukes, the Clinton and Quad Cities stations.
Exelon’s tactics differ in an important respect as well. Unlike in 2016, the company won’t detail its demands in the way that matters most—dollars and cents—to keep open the Dresden and Byron stations, which otherwise are slated to close this fall. The company even refused an invitation to appear May 11 before a House committee to testify on Pritzker’s wide-ranging energy legislation, which would provide $70 million a year in ratepayer subsidies for the two plants.
CEO Chris Crane has said that’s not nearly enough. So how much is enough? The company continues to dodge that question. The only hint Crane has given came in a May 5 earnings call with analysts when he pointed to a recent decision in New Jersey to subsidize nukes there.
“If you take a look at what happened in New Jersey last week, the (state) concluded that the financial challenges faced by nuclear plants there justified a maximum (subsidy) of $10 per megawatt-hour,” Crane said.
Applying that level of support to Dresden and Byron would entail increases in electricity rates sufficient to generate $353 million in annual revenue based on the two plants’ 2019 production. That’s nearly five times what Pritzker is offering—an amount based on an independent audit the governor commissioned of Exelon’s nuclear plants—and well above the $235 million Rauner signed into law in 2016.
The 2016 subsidy adds about $2 a month on average to electric bills throughout the state. A $353 million subsidy would tack on nearly $3 more.
Asked whether the New Jersey subsidy is what Exelon wants in Illinois, a spokesman didn’t respond directly. “(Pritzker’s) proposal was based on a flawed analysis from a consultant whose work has twice been rejected by New Jersey policymakers who, when faced with the same circumstances, concluded that saving that state’s nuclear plants would cost consumers far less than trying to replace them with other clean energy sources. We stand ready to work with policymakers and all stakeholders on policy changes that will move us toward a zero-carbon future at the lowest cost to consumers.”
The Pritzker administration says the company needs to come clean. “If Exelon is going to come to the General Assembly and ratepayers asking for more money than what independent experts say they need, then they will need to justify that ask in a public forum,” spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh says. “The governor is not interested in repeating the sins of the past, and it’s insulting to taxpayers that Exelon would use this tired playbook and expect the same result.”
At the May 11 hearing before the House Energy and Environment Committee, Deputy Gov. Christian Mitchell called Exelon out publicly. “Exelon . . . refuses to even appear before committees like this one to answer to the people of Illinois. They were invited to attend this committee today, and they declined.”