Now more than ever, utility customers expect energy that’s clean, reliable and safe, and they expect that the companies producing it for them will practice environmental stewardship.
Meeting and exceeding those expectations can go beyond day-to-day operations and incorporate local communities and employees. By engaging employees and customers in both charitable and environmental endeavors, companies can make a quantifiable difference in the communities where they work and live.
For example, a cooling water lake near a power plant may not seem a likely destination for outdoor enthusiasts. But at Braidwood Generating Station — one of the six nuclear facilities in Illinois owned and operated by Exelon Generation — the cooling lake has evolved to become a flourishing fish ecosystem where employee volunteers join with recreational and professional fishers to raise money for charity each year.
Since 2002, Fishing for a Cure has raised more than $500,000 for nonprofit organizations in the communities near Braidwood Station. A team of mechanics laid the foundation for the event, having devised a way to both engage employee volunteers and use the natural resources available near the station. As many as 100 two-person teams pay a $150 entry fee to compete for cash prizes, with a limit of three fish per team. At a nearby park district pond, families also come out for a children’s fishing derby where up to 70 children ages 12 and under participate, with each child receiving a gift bag and various prizes awarded to the top three participants in each age group.
Every year, Exelon employees nominate and vote for the Fishing for a Cure beneficiary, which is usually a local community nonprofit. In 2016, the station chose the regional chapter of Easter Seals, which provides essential services and advocates for people with disabilities — including the child of a Braidwood maintenance electrician. In 2017, the Fishing for a Cure volunteer team picked the Braidwood Area Healthy Community Coalition, a group dedicated to stopping drug and alcohol abuse. Exelon covers all costs of the tournament, including the $10,000 prize money, and proceeds from entry fees, a raffle and a silent auction directly benefit the designated charity. Dozens of employee volunteers run the Fishing for a Cure event each year, and virtually all 750 employees at Braidwood support the event in a meaningful way.
This wasn’t always possible. Before the station began commercial operations more than 30 years ago, the Braceville, Ill. site was little more than a scarred patchwork of abandoned strip-mines and farming land, unfit for recreational use.
When construction began in the 1970s, planners knew the adjacent lake would support the work of providing reliable energy, while also serving as a natural resource that the public could enjoy. Eventually, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) acquired the lake from Commonwealth Edison in 1999 under the landmark Open Land Trust, and it has served the plant and the community well ever since as a destination for fishing, boating, hunting and wildlife habitat preservation.
Exelon employees have worked with the IDNR for several years to enhance Braidwood Lake’s fish ecosystem. Since 2007, the company has purchased and deployed hundreds of commercially made fish habitats at the lake. The IDNR and local bass clubs gladly help with the deployment of the habitats. The habitat units are designed to provide multiple benefits to largemouth bass at various stages of life —- from acting as a nursery habitat for young fish to providing feeding sites for larger, older bass. This effort, combined with the IDNR annual restocking of 60,000 four-inch fingerling largemouth bass, has significantly enhanced the Braidwood Lake fishery.
The bass are also a favorite of Midwest anglers, who travel far and wide during warm weather months to enjoy all the lake has to offer.
Habitat management efforts at Braidwood Lake have not only helped reel in money for charity, they have also earned the station a Wildlife at Work certification from the Wildlife Habitat Council. Maintaining the quality of the lake and its surrounding area has allowed deer, wild turkey, osprey and other birds and animals to flourish on the land.
At Exelon, we believe it’s important to make every effort to maintain and enhance wildlife at these locations.
Whether it’s a conservation project, a charity fundraiser or an environmental education event, there are many possibilities for power generators and utilities to engage their natural resources for the betterment of wildlife and the communities we serve.
About the author: Bryan Hanson is president and chief nuclear officer at Exelon Generation, responsible for ensuring high levels of performance and safety across its nuclear fleet. Exelon Generation operates the largest nuclear fleet in the nation, which includes 23 reactors at 14 facilities located in Illinois, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. Hanson has more than 25 years of progressive experience in the nuclear power industry.