In a nail-biter more reminiscent of overtime at the Super Bowl, the Illinois State Legislature passed The Future Energy Jobs Bill (SB 2814) with less than an hour remaining in the legislative session. The bi-partisan bill allows Exelon’s Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear power plants to remain open, saving 4,200 jobs and over 22 billion kWhs of carbon-free power each year, more than all of the state’s renewables combined.So green energy subsidies are killing nuclear power. And environmentalists are concerned. Why?
These two plants were in jeopardy of closing because even at a low cost of five cents or so per kWh, they were losing a combined $100 million per year because they could not compete with cheap natural gas and wind energy that is subsidized at 2.3¢/kWh. Illinois taxpayers subsidize solar energy at 21¢/kWh. This bill provides these nuclear plants with just 1¢/kWh, and only until market conditions change.
Exelon had drafted a press release announcing the closure of the two plants that was to be issued last night if the bill failed. Instead, these plants will be operating for at least another 10 years, producing over 200 billion kWhs of carbon-free energy.
The fate of these Illinois nuclear plants had drawn the attention of the entire country, including the leading climate scientists, since Illinois generates more zero-emissions electricity than any other state, 90% of which comes from nuclear power, and climate scientists are in favor of nuclear power.So the solution to fighting off the bad effects of a subsidy is to grant another subsidy. You would think the best solution is getting rid of the first subsidy.
Earlier this year, a coalition of scientists and conservationists, including famed climate scientist James Hansen, anti-nuclear activist turned nuclear proponent Michael Shellenberger, and Whole Earth catalogue founder Stewart Brand, sent an open letter to Illinois legislators asking them to “do everything in your power to keep all of Illinois’s nuclear power plants running for their full lifetimes.”
Even the Sierra Club reluctantly supported this bill.
Nuclear plants across the country are at risk of being closed prematurely mainly because they are excluded from federal and state clean energy policies. First, the federal production tax credit subsidy for wind is not available to nuclear energy. This credit sometimes turns wholesale electricity prices negative by encouraging wind farms to overproduce during periods of low demand when no one wants their electricity and it threatens to overload the grid. Nuclear plants must pay to supply the grid during temporary wind surges, while wind farms continue earning money from the tax credit.