Exelon NPPs face closure without legislative support but rescue still possible

21 June 2021

Chicago-based Exelon on 16 June notified the PJM electricity transmission organisation that it plans to take the two units of the Byron NPP offline in September. PJM is a regional transmission organisation that coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity in all or parts of 13 US states, including Illinois, and the District of Columbia.

Unless Illinois legislators adopt legislation providing financial aid, both the Byron NPP and Exelon’s Dresden NPP will close this year. The two-unit Byron NPP, comprising two pressurised water reactors with capacities of 1164MWe and 1136MWe will close in September 2021, and the two unit Dresden plant with two boiling water reactors with capacities of 894MWe and 879MWe in November 2021. Dresden is licensed to operate for another decade and Byron for another 20 years. Together, they employ more than 1500 full-time employees and 2000 supplemental workers during refuelling outages.

Although a last-ditch attempt to adopt the necessary legislation failed on 15 June, there is still some optimism that an agreement can still be reached. “We are disappointed that a comprehensive climate and energy bill that would preserve Illinois’ largest source of clean energy failed to pass, paradoxically putting at risk the clean air and jobs goals that all policymakers rightfully agree are critical to our state,” Exelon said in a statement. “Absent quick passage of legislation, Exelon has no choice but to proceed with retiring Byron in September and Dresden in November, as previously announced.”

Legislators failed to reach agreement on a comprehensive energy package before their regular session ended in May, but were called back on 15 June for a special session to try again. However, the Senate once again adjourned without taking action. “We are this close to reaching that agreement, and I am confident that we will get it done,” Senate President Don Harmon said afterward at a press conference. “We came up a little short today, but we will get it done.”

After more than a year of negotiations key elements of the legislation seemed to be agreed: electric ratepayers will pay $694 million over the next five years to Exelon in charge for keeping online the Braidwood, Byron, Dresden and LaSalle nuclear plants; state regulators on the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) would increase control over how much Exelon subsidiary Commonwealth Edison can charge customers and would be empowered to investigate billing. However, no consensus was reached because of disagreement between key constituency groups: environmental activists and organized labour, explained Senator Bill Cunningham. “That creates problems for Democratic legislators. The second we bridge that gap I think we’ll have a bill and I think we’ll have that bill before the summer’s up,” he told WTTW.

The situation has been further complicated because three Exelon NPPs recently failed to clear PJM Interconnection's capacity auction for the 2022-2023 planning year. Byron, Dresden and the 1,819MWe Quad Cities plants failed to clear the auction, Exelon said on 3 June.

Exelon’s Braidwood and LaSalle County NPPs did clear the auction but still face premature retirement without legislative support. Exelon plans to continue operating Braidwood and LaSalle until May 2023, noting that this should provide enough time to plan their retirements safely if policy changes are not forthcoming. Despite not clearing the auction, the Quad Cities plant will continue to operate due to support provided by the Illinois Future Energy Jobs Act, which took effect in 2017.

Image: Exelon's Byron Nuclear Generating Station

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