Energy Bill Guarantees Survival of the Nuclear Power Plants

Residents of one northern Illinois community are breathing easier after the signing of an energy policy bill that guarantees the survival of the city’s nuclear power plant.

Since 1985, Byron has been home to two Exelon nuclear reactors that produce nearly 2,500 megawatts of energy, or enough to power around 2 million homes. Exelon had threatened to close the facility if the state did not provide new subsidies.

“Everybody’s got a big sense of relief,” said John Rickard, mayor of Byron. “All the fears that we had of what might happen, aren’t going to happen. I was worried. I didn’t have any sense that it was going to go. It really felt like it could fail.”

Rickard says the plant has meant a great deal to his city, including about $19 million annually in property taxes that flow to the local school district.

“Byron wasn’t much of a talent until the plant came here,” Rickard said. “And with that, we were able to create a culture of excellent education, which has attracted other folks to come and live here.”

The new law provides nearly $700 million over the next five years to help offset Exelon’s operating losses at three nuclear plants across the state. Company officials claimed those facilities could not remain profitable when competing with cheaper fossil fuels and subsidized renewable sources of energy.

Rickard says it’s good news for his city and the rest of Illinois.

“The total economic impact of the plant is like $388 million of economic activity for the region,” Rickard said. “For example, very little state money comes to [Byron] schools because we’ve got the plant. You take away the plant that changes the calculations and more money would need to come from the state to support the school, which takes money away from other folks.”

Rickard says this agreement will provide time for Byron to prepare for the next step, whenever that might take place.

“We know that one day the plant’s going to close,” Rickard said. “It’s got a license for another 20 years and we hope it makes it out that long. With enough kind of a heads up, we’ll make the adjustments.”

Exelon plants in Dresden and Braidwood also are protected from closure for the next few years by the new subsidies.