Exelon plants 'almost out of time', says CEO

07 May 2021

Exelon is not giving up on its Illinois plants, but will go ahead with the closure of Byron and Dresden later this year if the state does not - before the end of its current session - pass policy reforms to support their continued operation, CEO Chris Crane said this week.

The Dresden site is home to two operating boiling water reactors as well as unit 1, which closed in 1978 and is being decommissioned (Image: Exelon)

Exelon Generation last year announced that the plants, which together supply 30% of Illinois' carbon-free energy, will be retired this year - Byron's two pressurised water reactor units in September and Dresden's two boiling water reactors in November.

In its first-quarter earnings call on 5 May, Crane said the company felt encouraged by recognition from the US Administration and members of Congress of the importance of preserving the country's nuclear fleet to meet its clean energy and climate goals, but any federal legislation would be too late to reverse the retirement decisions for Byron and Dresden.

Six energy policy reform bills have been introduced in Illinois that would drive the transition to clean energy and address climate change, and legislative leaders are working to "craft a package" for consideration in the current session, he said.

"However, the details really matter," he said. "A bill needs to pass before the end of the regular session, and it needs to provide adequate support for continuing to invest in the Illinois fleet. Current market prices do not allow us to continue to meet our payroll, property taxes and other significant costs and risks of operating these assets. Without adequate policy, we will retire uneconomic plants beginning this fall."

Crane referred to the recent decision by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities to extend zero-emission certificates for the Hope Creek and Salem plants. The commission emphasised that maintaining existing plants was critical to achieving the state's emission goals and would be significantly less costly than replacing nuclear with other zero-carbon generation. The same would be true in Illinois, Crane said. Preserving the nuclear plants would be a better option for customers than trying to replace them with all-renewables and storage, he said, which would cost Illinois consumers over USD80 billion more to achieve the same emissions cuts.

"We've been advocating for policy changes in Illinois for more than two years because I feel we have a duty to our customers to preserve every opportunity … and to keep these critical energy resources running. But we're almost out of time and we'll prematurely retire these assets in the fall if the policy reforms are not passed in this session," Crane said.

The current Illinois legislative session ends on 31 May.

Crane said the company had been "real clear" about the plants' future but he remained optimistic. "We're not giving up, we're confident we've got adequate support within the Administration and the legislature, and we'll see how it goes. That said, we have been clear for a couple of years. It's just the reality - we cannot continue to run uneconomic plants."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News