The people of Illinois got a bit of good news Wednesday when a report by several state agencies essentially said nobody should rush in with baskets of cash to rescue Exelon’s fleet of nuclear power plants.
Exelon has not asked for a government bailout, but it is looking for legislation that might give it a greater competitive edge. The power company claims this is necessary because three of its six Illinois nuclear plants are in financial trouble because of declining energy prices. Legislation to help keep open the plants — the Byron, Clinton and Quad Cities facilities — is expected to be acted on in Springfield in the spring.
But Wednesday’s report puts the onus on Exelon to prove its case first. The energy company should reveal how much each plant is earning or losing, and how much the fleet is making as a whole. Just how hard up is Exelon? They have refused to say.
Exelon has earned plenty from its nuclear plants over the years, pocketing the profits. Now, making the argument that it deserves special breaks because it produces environmentally clean energy, Exelon wants the Legislature to force ratepayers to carry more of the burden of any future losses. The Legislature should be in no hurry to play along.
The new report concludes that Illinois has surplus energy capacity, and there would be no effect on the reliability of our energy supply even if Exelon’s three financially troubled plants were to close.
We see the value in assuring that at least some of Exelon’s nuclear plants remain in operation, guaranteeing Illinois businesses and residents a reliable source of energy should natural gas prices soar or coal-burning plants be forced to shut down in frigid weather. But that alone should be the legislative aim — not windfall profits for Exelon.