Time running out to save Dresden

Exelon submits decommissioning plans, Braidwood and LaSalle stations face closure

File photo
HUNDREDS OF UNION workers, their families and community advocates gathered outside the Illinois Capitol In May in support of nuclear power and the continued operation of the Dresden and Byron Generating stations, and the future of the Braidwood and LaSalle stations. The rally, organized by Climate Jobs Illinois and the state’s labor organizations was held prior to the end of the spring legislative session.

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STAFF REPORT

Exelon Generation has taken the next step toward closure of its Dresden and Byron Generating Stations, absent a solution by Illinois lawmakers.
On July 28, the company filed Post Shutdown Decommissioning Activities Reports [PSDARs] with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission giving long-term site restoration plans for both facilities following their planned closures this fall—Byron in September and Dresden in November.
Company officials say the filings are among the final steps in retiring the plants that face revenue shortfalls in the hundreds of millions of dollars due to low energy prices and market policies that give fossil fuel plants an unfair competitive advantage.
A hand-full of clean energy proposals were presented during the spring legislative session and an 11th hour deal was struck with the Governor to provide subsidies the company needs to keep the nuclear plants open. But an impasse over deadlines for shutting down the state’s coal and gas fired plants delayed legislative action.
In a letter sent to Gov. JB Pritzker on Monday, union leaders aligned with Climate Jobs Illinois [CJI] stated they were no longer confident a deal could be reached this summer.
According to the letter, following a meeting in mid-June between CJI and the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition, both sides agreed to produce updated decarbonization and prevailing wage offset language.
CJI said it fowarded language on June 27 with wage language presented a day later. The language was rejected and despite additional attempts, CJI states the Clean Jobs group failed to submit any counter proposals.
“We sadly write to inform you today that as a result of the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition’s failure to negotiate in good faith, we have reached what we believe is an impasse in reaching an agreed upon clean energy bill due to seemingly intractable differences on the issues of decarbonization and prevailing wage standards,” the letter stated. “Because of the group’s failure to negotiate in good faith, we are forced to declare an impasse in the negotiations. We do not relish this moment. No one wins in this scenario.”
In apparent response to the CJI letter and with time running out, State Senator Sue Rezin and State Rep. David Welter, joined counterparts representing the Byron area in issuing a joint statement calling on legislative leaders to reconvene the Illinois General Assembly to pass legislation that will keep the state’s nuclear fleet on-line and extend Illinois’ renewable portfolio standard.
“If action is not taken soon, tens of thousands of workers will lose their livelihoods, millions of utility customers across Illinois will begin paying higher energy costs, and we will all suffer an immediate environmental impact equivalent to putting 4.4 million additional cars on the road, emitting carbon and other harmful sources of air pollution,” the statement read.
“Too much is at stake to wait for the demands of every individual interest group to be satisfied in a comprehensive energy package. We must act now to pass the provisions there is broad agreement on, which include preserving Illinois’ nuclear fleet and extending the state’s renewable portfolio standard with incentives for critical solar and wind initiatives.” The legislators say they are committed to passing these items now and coming back to the table to negotiate more long-term aspects of Illinois’ energy future before the fall veto session in October.
“Time is of the essence. We cannot wait until later this autumn to protect energy jobs, protect our environment, and prevent dramatic rate hikes on utility customers,” the legislators said.
The agreement reached between the utility and Pritzker’s office on the final day of the spring legislative session would provide $694 million in subsidies over five years to keep the Dresden and Byron stations open, as well as the Braidwood and LaSalle facilities that face premature closure in the next few years.
Legislation being drafted would preserve all four plants, grow clean energy jobs, keep energy prices affordable and achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
“With no signs of a breakthrough on clean energy legislation in Springfield, we have no choice but to take these final steps in preparation for shutting down the plants,” said Exelon Generation Chief Nuclear Officer Dave Rhodes.
“We will never stop fighting for policies to preserve Illinois’ nuclear fleet, knowing that the minute these plants close our customers will experience dirtier air and higher energy costs. But with time running out, we must plan for the future and do everything we can to prepare our employees and the communities they serve for what lies ahead.”
The nuclear facilities support 28,000 direct and in-direct jobs and contribute $3.5 million annually to the state’s economy.
According to Exelon, as part of the decommissioning process the company has up to 60 years to restore the sites including removing the stored used fuel, decontamination and removing plant components and razing structures.
With the PSDARs filed, the next step in the closure process is issuance of job reduction notifications to employees.
In its Aug. 2 letter, labor leaders said it’s time for the Governor and state leaders to find a way to get a deal done.
“There is too much on the line: Tens of thousands of good-paying union jobs. Thousands of new jobs created to build our clean energy infrastructure of the future. Greater opportunities for undeserved communities to have a fair shot at learning new skills and earning a decent wage to lift their families out of poverty. Energy efficiently for our public schools. Clean energy fleets for our public transit system. And so much more that is necessary to reduce emissions and generate new clean power sources.”
Exelon reports staffing at the plans will fall from nearly 1,500 employees to just 30-40 over the next 10 years.