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*** UPDATED x2 *** Exelon turns up the heat a little

Thursday, Jul 30, 2015

* Make sure to read the last excerpted paragraph in this Crain’s story

Looks like Exelon’s Quad Cities nuclear plant is a goner come September.

Chris Crane, CEO of the Chicago-based utility giant, which also is the largest nuclear plant operator in the country, made clear on a conference call with analysts today that he doesn’t see a way to keep money-losing Quad Cities open in the absence of a state law to charge ratepayers throughout Illinois more to bolster revenues at Exelon’s nukes. Exelon says that three of its six Illinois plants are losing money as wholesale power prices remain historically low due in large part to the cheap cost of natural gas.

Exelon has established September as the time it must decide the future of Quad Cities, and an anticipated revenue windfall for Exelon’s nukes courtesy of a regional power-plant auction set for next month almost certainly won’t be enough, Crane said.

That auction, conducted by regional grid operator PJM Interconnection to set the price of “capacity” paid by all utility customers to qualifying power plants, is expected to materially hike electricity rates beginning in June 2018, as well as revenues for big power generators like Exelon. PJM has changed the rules of the auction to virtually ensure that companies will get paid more and energy prices for customers will rise. Exelon’s Illinois nukes are in line to see hundreds of millions in additional revenue beginning in mid-2018 from the changes. […]

Quad Cities, too, ultimately could survive if Exelon prevails in Springfield, even if the company announces in September it will close the plant. Company executives in the past have said they could reverse such a decision as late as six months or so after making it. After that, though, it would be irreversible, they’ve said.

So, in reality, the GA has until March to do something.

*** UPDATE 1 *** Former Exelon CEO John Rowe begged to differ this week

Q: Depending how the upcoming PJM capacity auctions go, Exelon’s nuclear plants may benefit a lot and it would seem they would not need the bill in the legislature to guarantee their future. What do you think?

A: The [MISO] capacity auction in southern Illinois did not have much effect on Exelon because it sold the power forward. It would have an effect a year from now but not big enough to make that plant [Clinton Power Station] profitable. The [PJM] auction could make that Quad Cities plant profitable.

Emphasis added.

*** UPDATE 2 *** From the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition…

“Exelon’s threats to close the Quad City and Byron plants increase the urgency to pass the Illinois Clean Jobs bill, which will raise production of wind and solar to 35% and double energy efficiency. This is the only viable way for Illinois to meet the Obama Administration’s new Clean Power Plan rules expected out next week and along the way save consumers $1.6 billion on electric bills and employ more than 32,000 workers over the next decade and beyond.”

- Posted by Rich Miller        

40 Comments
  1. - Wordslinger - Thursday, Jul 30, 15 @ 10:14 am:

    Just another uber-capitalist using big money clout to get government to protect him from competition.


  2. - Union Man - Thursday, Jul 30, 15 @ 10:15 am:

    Close it!! Go Solar and Wind!!


  3. - Openthebooks - Thursday, Jul 30, 15 @ 10:17 am:

    Quad Cities is co-owned by MidAm so they can’t close it without their approval nor without the approval of PJM. Also why doesn’t Exelon open their books and show legislators and the public what it really needs to keep these plants open they want the public to pay for them…again! The company has made millions off of the market they wanted…now they don’t like the market they want rate payers to provide for their profits.


  4. - Demoralized - Thursday, Jul 30, 15 @ 10:18 am:

    ==Exelon says that three of its six Illinois plants are losing money as wholesale power prices remain historically low due in large part to the cheap cost of natural gas.==

    So Exelon wants the government to manipulate prices for them because the market won’t allow them to charge the rates they want to charge. Go free market!


  5. - Nickname #2 - Thursday, Jul 30, 15 @ 10:40 am:

    Is it unprofitable to run, or is it unprofitable to run and pay the executives their salaries? There’s a difference.


  6. - Michelle Flaherty - Thursday, Jul 30, 15 @ 10:43 am:

    Mike Jacobs would have never let this happen.


  7. - Abe the Babe - Thursday, Jul 30, 15 @ 10:44 am:

    Clinton is a goner.

    Quad cities is a bargaining chip.


  8. - walker - Thursday, Jul 30, 15 @ 10:44 am:

    “We’re only utilities when it profits us.”


  9. - A guy - Thursday, Jul 30, 15 @ 10:49 am:

    === Michelle Flaherty - Thursday, Jul 30, 15 @ 10:43 am:

    Mike Jacobs would have never let this happen.===

    We could ask him. You think he’s awake yet? /s


  10. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Jul 30, 15 @ 10:52 am:

    Oof.

    Burn.

    Flaherty, you lost that round. lol


  11. - Enviro - Thursday, Jul 30, 15 @ 11:03 am:

    More renewable energy is what we need.

    This is what is happening in Germany:

    “Germany’s transition from coal- and oil-fired power to carbon-free electricity hit a new milestone on July 25 when solar, wind, and other sources of renewable energy met 78 percent of the day’s energy demand.”
    http://ecowatch.com/2015/07/30/germany-breaks-renewable-energy-record/


  12. - Mama - Thursday, Jul 30, 15 @ 11:04 am:

    Closing nuclear plant: Who are the winners? Which company(s) wins when the nuclear power plant(s) is closed?


  13. - nickled and dimed - Thursday, Jul 30, 15 @ 11:15 am:

    Funny I try and do use less electricity and my bill keeps going higher and higher!!!


  14. - Scholarlyish - Thursday, Jul 30, 15 @ 11:24 am:

    =“Germany’s transition from coal- and oil-fired power to carbon-free electricity hit a new milestone on July 25 when solar, wind, and other sources of renewable energy met 78 percent of the day’s energy demand.”
    http://ecowatch.com/2015/07/30/germany-breaks-renewable-energy-record/=

    That was the ONE day they managed. Solar and wind have a long way to go before they can produce and sustain a majority of the power supply reliably.

    I believe part of Exelon’s complaint is that tax subsidies, grants and other financial incentives have been offered to other non-fossil fuel companies but have excluded Exelon, despite the expectation they both supply most of the power and maintain all the equipment to transport it.


  15. - JASH - Thursday, Jul 30, 15 @ 11:31 am:

    If controlling carbon emissions in an economic way is the ultimate goal, keeping the existing nuclear fleet running should be the top priority. The carbon impact of these plants has already occurred(concrete/construction). Closing them prematurely based on market conditions negates the carbon benefit from years of future carbon free operation.

    They shouldn’t get a golden ticket but in light of the case I present above, they should get comparable, per MW, assistance.


  16. - Abe the Babe - Thursday, Jul 30, 15 @ 11:32 am:

    ==part of Exelon’s complaint is that tax subsidies, grants and other financial incentives have been offered to other non-fossil fuel companies but have excluded Exelon==

    Oh so I guess Exelon didnt receive any govt. loans, incentives, or subsidies to build their nuclear plants? You know the ones that cost 5 times more than projected and that were paid for by ratepayers not shareholders?


  17. - JASH - Thursday, Jul 30, 15 @ 11:59 am:

    =Oh so I guess Exelon didnt receive any govt. loans, incentives, or subsidies to build their nuclear plants? You know the ones that cost 5 times more than projected and that were paid for by ratepayers not shareholders?=

    Somebody got marvelous benefits to support construction costs and risks but it wasn’t Exelon.

    Exelon has since acquired these assets post construction. It purposefully put itself in this position where the benefits of continued operation are essentially carbon-free energy but at great cost. Right now that carbon-free energy from its nuclear fleet is treated the same as carbon producing methods on power markets.

    A decision must be made on the ‘value’ of this carbon-free source of energy, just like a ‘value’ is put on the environmentally friendly wind and solar through subsidies.


  18. - okgo - Thursday, Jul 30, 15 @ 12:02 pm:

    Quad Cities would stand to make between $100-$150 million from the PJM capacity auction in August.

    But Exelon will intentionally make sure it doesn’t “clear” the auction, so it can continue to be used as a bargaining chip. Then, once they get their legislation, they will magically make it “clear” the auctions in the future, resulting in another $100-$150 million gain, and corresponding hit to ratepayers.


  19. - Openthebooks - Thursday, Jul 30, 15 @ 12:08 pm:

    Illinois also currently has a surplus of electricity. Selling to states in the PJM market seems realistic for pumping in some revenue. Depending on how federal carbon regulations turn out Exelons value may increase, but we don’t know that yet so let’s not jump to raise utility costs for consumers in Illinios. The effect this bailout would have on industrial bills will add another nail to an anti-business climate here.


  20. - Abe the Babe - Thursday, Jul 30, 15 @ 12:11 pm:

    ==Somebody got marvelous benefits to support construction costs and risks but it wasn’t Exelon==

    You do know that ComEd built the plants and then spun them off to Exelon after restructuring right? So yes they did benefit from all those terrible government subsidies.

    ==A decision must be made on the ‘value’ of this carbon-free source of energy, just like a ‘value’ is put on the environmentally friendly wind and solar through subsidies.==

    The “value” is whatever the market says it is. Exelon chose the free market and now they complain when prices are low. And very little of it has to do with wind subsidies. Its all about the gas.

    As for wind and solar subsidies. Yes, we have them. Can you name one major source of energy that never got subsidies starting out?


  21. - BEST Dave - Thursday, Jul 30, 15 @ 12:19 pm:

    “Somebody got marvelous benefits to support construction costs and risks but it wasn’t Exelon.”

    That’s a joke, right? You do realize that Exelon was formed out of deregulation when they were “given” the plants and also a deal to cover their “stranded costs.” And that ComEd, which built the plants when it was a regulated utility with OUR money, is still a wholly owned subsidiary of Exelon.

    Seriously, if you guys are going to try to comment on this stuff, it would help if you had half a clue about the facts.


  22. - BEST Dave - Thursday, Jul 30, 15 @ 12:23 pm:

    OKGO,

    You’re absolutely right. Exelon will likely game the system by overbidding into the auction. Note the construct of what former Exelon Chairman John Rowe said above. “The [PJM] auction could make that Quad Cities plant profitable.”

    Yes, Exelon’s former chair and the architect of their nuclear strategy is acknowledging that the auction COULD make Quad Cities profitable. But of course they’re going to try and double dip by forcing the GA to bail them out (did you see they made $632 million last quarter) and then double dip.

    They are playing games and this is just the latest game.


  23. - JASH - Thursday, Jul 30, 15 @ 1:13 pm:

    You are missing the point.

    -Forget Exelon altogether

    -Company X owns 5,000 MW of generating capacity from carbon free sources. The operating cost of those 5,000MW is $4/MWh.

    -The operating cost of 5,000MW from a competing carbon producer is $1/MWh.

    In a free-market vacuum devoid of a rational and cerebral body(government) the carbon-producers win easily. See China.

    But in fact there is additional ‘value’ in a carbon-free MW beyond what the market says it is worth. After a market shifting boom towards cheap carbon-producing energy, it is up to the state government to decide what that ‘value’ is worth. Once that decision is made, Clinton and Quad will be on one side of that line or the other.

    It almost appears as if you do not see the value in carbon-free energy. If that is the case, then your error is far more fundamental in nature.


  24. - sss - Thursday, Jul 30, 15 @ 1:22 pm:

    Does JASH stand for Just Another ShareHolder?


  25. - Robert the Bruce - Thursday, Jul 30, 15 @ 1:42 pm:

    @JASH, I thought the marginal operating cost of a nuke plant was very low, as low as coal? And that it was instead the wind and solar that need the subsidy in order to be competitive? (I could be wrong; it has been years since I had any knowledge of this)


  26. - Abe the Babe - Thursday, Jul 30, 15 @ 2:23 pm:

    @JASH

    You seem to be arguing for a price on carbon. I don’t disagree. But just to stay consistent you should also be in favor of a “price” that taxpayers are going to pay for the long term storage solution for the waste from your beloved nuke plants. Joe taxpayer will be paying for that “value”. Its not in the price now.

    You cant argue for certain “values” while ignoring the other inherent subsidies covering nuclear’s true costs.

    It was an adorable try though.


  27. - NeverPoliticallyCorrect - Thursday, Jul 30, 15 @ 2:25 pm:

    The reason nukes are in trouble is plentiful gas, not wind and solar. In order to have a reliable electric grid you have to be ready to meet the demand load. Typically that meant keeping a 20% spinning excess at all times. Renewables can’t do that. They end up costing us twice as much because the utilities have to maintain baseload even as renewables are used. Until we can create effective storage of large amounts of electrical energy renewables are a waste of limited resources.


  28. - Retired - Thursday, Jul 30, 15 @ 2:48 pm:

    Exelon only made $638 million profit in the second quarter . Must not be enough. Oy.


  29. - BEST Dave - Thursday, Jul 30, 15 @ 3:00 pm:

    Robert the Bruce,

    You are correct that the operating costs of nukes used to be in the $1-2/MWH range. Unfortunately those costs have gone up significantly since the plants have aged. The result is that the subsidy they seek only starts with the first five years, five months. But costs will continue to rise so to keep these plants operating, this will be a subsidy in perpetuity.

    And I agree with Abe. You’re arguing for a price on Carbon. You can’t just argue about the non-carbon attribute without calculating all the subsidies nukes not only have received but are continuing to receive (insurance, waste).


  30. - Loop Lady - Thursday, Jul 30, 15 @ 3:35 pm:

    Just got back from MA and was amazed at the amount of wind and solar installations in urban and non urban areas, even along major highways…see ya and don’t let the door…


  31. - Robert the Bruce - Thursday, Jul 30, 15 @ 3:36 pm:

    Thanks, BEST Dave - interesting about the nukes’ operating cost now being higher.

    Not that it matters, but I’m not arguing for anything…I generally do distrust anything the bigger utilities say. Just trying to understand.

    I know the nuke operators prefer to be lumped in with the green energy options, but I’ve always found this laughable. The waste cleanup as you mention. Plus I think we need to factor in the low probability but extremely high potential cost if something were to go wrong.

    Thanks again.


  32. - Anon221 - Thursday, Jul 30, 15 @ 3:57 pm:

    BTW- Clinton was never part of ComEd, it was the brainchild of Illinois Power (Ameren). One of the last nuclear plants built in this country before the current “renaissance” (which is being financed more by tax dollars than private).

    Clinton, in my personal opinion (agreeing with Abe) is the most vulnerable. It’s in MISO, was underrated in that auction, and is not co-owned by Warren Buffet (http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20150530/ISSUE01/305309994/exelons-nuke-partner-is-also-a-rival). It is also a single reactor, whereas the other two sites as dual. If you were Crane, which would you choose to be the sacrificial site???


  33. - Senator Clay Davis - Thursday, Jul 30, 15 @ 4:22 pm:

    NeverPoliticallyCorrect, you’re not understanding how the grid works. Everything backs up everything else, and you don’t need 100% backup for renewables.

    Though individual wind or solar generators will have variable production, it’s generally predictable by season and time of day across the entire system. The grid operator can project the overall output of all the renewable sources on the grid and plan accordingly. The engineering challenges aren’t as significant as we used to think.


  34. - 1776 - Thursday, Jul 30, 15 @ 5:25 pm:

    The Clean Jobs team must be early users of medical marijuana.

    Renewables only account for about 5 percent of Illinois’ energy in the 20 years after deregulation while nukes are about 48 percent. There is no way renewables can make up the difference if a couple of nukes are closed.

    With regard to Germany, here is info from the WSJ.

    Average electricity prices for companies have jumped 60% over the past five years because of costs passed along as part of government subsidies of renewable energy producers. Prices are now more than double those in the U.S.


  35. - Senator Clay Davis - Thursday, Jul 30, 15 @ 5:36 pm:

    1776 - Germany’s rates are based on an inherently high-cost and inefficient tariff structure. They use a “feed-in” tariff, where the government sets a rate for electricity produced by wind/solar generators and essentially anybody that builds gets that rate. In the US, we use market-based systems where the lowest-cost renewable bidder wins. Do your research.


  36. - BEST Dave - Thursday, Jul 30, 15 @ 7:11 pm:

    1776, it is an open question whether closing one nuke would require any new generation. Remember that since the 80s, Illinois has been a net exporter of between 20 and 40% of our power.

    Whether a particular nuke could close and what would need to replace it, if anything, depends on many factors including transmission, congestion, need for ancillary services, etc. If we still need a particular nuke for a given period of time, they would be awarded a must run contract which would pay them cost plus their rate of return.

    Additionally, as many articles have pointed out, there is a minimum 18 month process. There also is a tremendous amount of untapped natural gas combined cycle plant capacity that is not currently being used in IL.


  37. - Huh? - Thursday, Jul 30, 15 @ 8:09 pm:

    What I have never figured out is how wind turbines generate power when the wind isn’t blowing. There are always going to be days when there isn’t enough wind to effectively generate electricity. The same goes for solar power. How much power is generated when the sun goes down.

    There has to be something to pick up the slack times. Like it or not, nuclear power is an effective carbon free energy source. Nuclear plants are sources of employment for many people. Not only for the day to day operation of the plant, but for the outages when repairs and refueling is required.

    It is great to advocate renewable energy, but it isn’t the continuous and uninterruptable power source that we need.


  38. - Wordslinger - Thursday, Jul 30, 15 @ 9:05 pm:

    Huh, for crying out loud…. you’re worried about when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine? You think that’s how it works?

    Believe me, if either one of those things happens for an unanticipated period of time, we’ve got bigger problems than Exelon rolling the General Assembly for the millionth time.


  39. - Huh? - Thursday, Jul 30, 15 @ 10:00 pm:

    Word- what I was trying to point out is that renewable energy is not the panacea that the proponents want it to be. Along with the renewable energy sources, there must be other energy sources to pick up t he slack.

    I fully understand that Exelon and Ameren want to gouge the rate payers for nuclear power plants that are reaching the calculated life expectancy.


  40. - Odysseus - Thursday, Jul 30, 15 @ 10:46 pm:

    “There has to be something to pick up the slack times.”

    Generically, winds are slowest during the day and strongest at night. So the “slack times” for wind are the best times for solar. And vice versa.

    A well balanced wind+solar portfolio will automatically compensate for a significant part of the variability that you complain about.


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