Keeping Illinois nuclear plants open, saving some customers $237 a year

Byron, USA: The Exelon Byron nuclear power plants operate at full capacity on May 14, 2007, in Byron, Illinois. (Photo credit should read JEFF HAYNES/AFP via Getty Images)

JEFF HAYNES | AFP | Getty Images

Nuclear power pays off in times of fluctuating energy prices.

In September, Illinois lawmakers passed a clean energy law that made the state a leader in its decarbonization efforts. One of the main provisions of the law was the commitment to keep its existing nuclear fleet online, even if the plants were not profitable.

Nuclear reactors produce electricity without emitting greenhouse gases, but they often cannot compete when other forms of energy such as natural gas and renewables become really cheap. But Illinois needed to keep its nuclear fleet online to meet its clean energy goals.

Now, less than a year later, upstate and Chicago-area utility customers are saving an average of $237 a year on their energy bills because of this legislation, according to regulators. the state.

In late April, Illinois utility Commonwealth Edison filed paperwork with the Illinois Commerce Commission, a local regulatory agency, saying it would provide a credit of 3.087 cents per kilowatt hour from June 1 through June 31. May 2023.

The exact amount of the credit varies depending on how much energy a customer uses, but on average the credit results in savings of $19.71 per month, or an average of $237 per year, according to the Commission. of Illinois Commerce.

Illinois’ Clean Energy Act agreed to keep nuclear plants open if they lost money, but it also capped the amount of money that nuclear plant owner Constellation Energy can make if energy prices are rising. (In February, Exelon spun off part of its business to Constellation Energy.)

Energy prices rose in part because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and subsequent global efforts to wean Russian energy pipelines.

“The Climate and Fair Jobs Act passed last year is working exactly as intended by keeping these critical carbon-free energy facilities operating during periods of historically low prices, while protecting consumers when energy prices are increasing, as they have recently given unfortunate world events,” Constellation Energy told CNBC in a written statement Wednesday.

“To date, consumers in Illinois have not paid a penny to nuclear power plants under the law and will instead receive a substantial credit,” Constellation Energy said.

“I am proud that our commitment to achieve carbon-free energy by 2045 is already saving consumers money just months after it took effect,” Governor JB Pritzker said in a written statement at the time.

The flip side of the Illinois legislation is that if power prices fall again and the existing nuclear fleet in Illinois becomes unprofitable, Illinois will pay to keep the plants open so that the State can continue to achieve its decarbonization objectives.

But right now, when energy prices are high, Illinois ComEd energy customers are getting money back.

The timing is poignant, as high inflation in the United States has weighed on consumers.

“For families struggling with the high cost of inflation, this is a welcome relief. What could have been a nuclear subsidy was cleverly negotiated into a billion dollar windfall for Illinois consumers. “, said the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition (ICJC), a collaborative group of Illinois organizations, said in a written statement. “The agreement shows the wisdom of Illinois’ approach to addressing the climate crisis and creating fair, well-paying clean energy jobs while saving money for consumers.”

The credit will not affect all utility customers in Illinois. Customers served by the Ameren utility, primarily in central and southern Illinois areas, will not receive the energy credit because Ameren was exempt from the law because it serves fewer than 3 million customers.

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