Exelon moves forward with plan to close Byron and Dresden nuclear power plants

Citing the lack of agreement on clean energy legislation, Exelon Generation plans to file decommissioning plans for its nuclear plants in Byron and Dresden.

The filings, which company officials said they plan to submit to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, are part of the final stages of retirement from the plants, which have been in operation for decades.

Byron would close in September, followed by Dresden in November.

A spokesperson for Exelon told the Sun-Times that while the company remains hopeful that “clean energy legislation will pass in time for us to reverse these actions,” it must continue to take necessary action. to close factories.

A key lawmaker who has worked on the energy bill said Exelon’s announcement on Wednesday aligns with the timeline the company set earlier this year for plant closures.

“I’m not sure that changes anything,” said Sen. Bill Cunningham, D-Chicago. “We hope that stakeholders will continue to work over the remainder of the summer, to reach an agreement that will lead to the drafting and adoption of an omnibus energy bill, and this desire existed before Exelon published this statement today, and it will also exist tomorrow.

State Senator Bill Cunningham speaks during a bill signing ceremony at Southside Occupational Academy High School on Wednesday.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

When announcing the decision, Exelon officials said they also plan to issue job cut notices to employees. Staff at the power plant numbered around 1,500 when plans to withdraw the facilities were announced last August. This figure could drop to 30 to 40 employees over the next 10 years.

“With no signs of a breakthrough in clean energy legislation in Springfield, we have no choice but to take these final steps toward plant closures,” said Dave Rhoades. , nuclear director of Exelon Generation, in a press release announcing the filings.

“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 time is running out, we must plan for the future and do all we can to prepare our employees and the communities they serve for what lies ahead.

Without legislation, the company could also shut down its Braidwood and LaSalle nuclear facilities over the “coming years,” according to the company’s statement.

Asked if the rollback plan was announced to pressure Springfield into passing legislation, an Exelon spokesperson told the Sun-Times that the move was necessary, although the company remains hopeful that the legislature can still pass a bill.

This 2011 photo shows steam rising from Exelon Corp's nuclear power plant.  in Byron, Illinois.

This 2011 photo shows steam rising from Exelon Corp’s nuclear power plant. in Byron, Illinois.
Robert Ray/AP File

“We understand lawmakers continue to work on a legislative solution that would preserve Illinois’ nuclear fleet and we remain hopeful that clean energy legislation will pass in time for us to reverse these actions,” Paul Adams said. , the spokesperson in a statement.

“However, with no certainty that a bill will pass, we need to take the final steps towards plant closures, and that includes completing regulatory filings such as the one we filed today with the NRC. “

The decision also ties into refueling the power plants, a “complex” process that costs “tens of millions of dollars, takes weeks, and requires more than 1,000 outside contractors,” Adams said.

“Whether to stop or refuel is not a decision that can be made at the last minute, and we are currently only weeks away from Byron’s retirement date in mid -September,” Adams said in his statement.

A spokesman for Senate Speaker Don Harmon said negotiations are ongoing.

State Senate Speaker Don Harmon in 2017.

State Senate Speaker Don Harmon in 2017.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times File

“Discussions continue as everyone involved seeks to strike the right balance for a future renewable, reliable and affordable energy plan,” Harmon spokesman John Patterson said in a statement. “This is a complex situation involving thousands of jobs, our climate future, and every Illinois’ electric bill, so clearly we want to get it right.”

A spokeswoman for Gov. JB Pritzker said the governor’s office presented a “comprehensive energy package” that would preserve jobs, put the state on a path to 100% clean energy by 2050 and include reforms ethics.

“The administration hopes the legislature will vote quickly on this compromise bill, which the governor will immediately sign into law,” the spokeswoman said in a statement.

The Bryron nuclear power plant shortly before it opened in 1985.

The Bryron nuclear power plant shortly before it opened in 1985.
AP file

Cunningham, who served as the state Senate’s lead negotiator on the energy bill, said most of the discussion around the legislation has been between environmental groups and labor unions.

There has been progress, “but it’s very slow, incremental progress,” the Beverly Democrat said.

Cunningham said if environmentalists and workers reached an agreement it would be “much easier” to move forward with the legislation.

Asked if he expected to be back in Springfield before the General Assembly’s scheduled veto session in October, Cunningham said that depended on whether or not a deal was reached. get the votes needed to pass.

Byron Generating Station, near the Rock River Valley in Ogle County, has been in operation for over 30 years. The Dresden power plant in Grundy county has been supplying electricity for more than 40 years.

Dresden nuclear power plant.

Dresden nuclear power plant.
1997 provided photo.

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