Exelon’s announcement that it will permanently close the dual-unit Quad Cities and single-unit Clinton nuclear power plants in Illinois was called a “tragedy” by Marvin Fertel, president and CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute.
I agree with him. I’m sad and angry that state and federal legislators and regulators let this happen. Do they not realize what electricity consumers are losing? Do that not understand that the nearly 3,000 MW of electricity generated by these facilities is totally carbon free? Do they understand capacity factor? Unlike many carbon-free generators, these plants generate at their full potential more than 95 percent of the time (except during refueling cycles). Carbon-free wind and photovoltaic solar, which have enjoyed many subsidies and tax credits to make them cost competitive, operate at average capacity factors of 20 percent to 30 percent (onshore wind) and less than 30 percent, respectively.
And, what about variability/intermittency? Did anyone explain that concept to our lawmakers? Nuclear power is baseload generation and plays an important role in keeping the grid balanced and reliable. Transmission system operators rely on it. In addition, carbon-free nuclear power has been connected to the grid for decades. There is no need to invest in new transmission line construction to get the clean, carbon-free electricity to the load centers. Don’t legislators and regulators care about stranded assets?
I understand the decision to close these plants is based on economics. Low natural gas prices have made highly-efficient combined-cycle combustion turbines the go-to source for electricity generation. I understand the benefits of clean, abundant, low cost natural gas for our nation. Although cleaner than coal, however, natural gas is not carbon or emissions free. For that reason, nuclear power should get special consideration. I don’t understand how those who have been elected and appointed to create a state and national energy policy can be so short-sighted. How can they let 3,000 MW of carbon free, reasonably priced, reliable electricity generation be shuttered?
Of course, I haven’t even addressed the economic impact these plant closures will have on thousands of families and the communities to which they are attached. Having worked 13 years at a nuclear power plant that was built near my hometown when I was in elementary school, I understand firsthand the opportunities these facilities bring to those who live nearby. These plants provide good jobs for locals and bring new families to communities, leading to not just economic, but also population, growth. This growth in turn results in new business and a larger tax base for those communities. Do legislatures and regulators care about the economic damage these closures will bring to not just the plants’ employees, but to everyone in the nearby communities?
Exelon for several years has been working with Illinois legislators, community leaders and consumer advocate groups to pass the Next Generation Energy Plan to help promote zero-carbon energy, create clean energy jobs, establish a more equitable utility rate structure and give customers more control over their bills. A big part of that bill is aimed at keeping the state’s at risk, carbon-free nuclear power plants operating. Unfortunately, state legislators adjourned for the season without passing the bill. Exelon has said it will continue to work on getting the bill passed, but because it hasn’t been passed yet, it cannot afford to continue operating Quad Cities and Clinton.
I could continue, but I’ll stop now. I think you get the point. The closing of these plants in the next two years is not just a tragedy for those directly impacted, it is a national tragedy that is not in line with the country’s push toward carbon-free electric power.