* I received this press release yesterday from a group calling itself Environmental Progress Illinois…
Over the last few months we’ve seen growing recognition by Democratic political leaders that efforts to close nuclear plants prematurely are disastrous for the climate. Hillary Clinton said efforts to prematurely retire nuclear plants “put ideology ahead of science and would make it harder and more costly to build a clean energy future.” Energy Secretary Ernie Moniz said, “We’re supposed to be adding zero-carbon energy sources not subtracting them.” And Senator Cory Booker endorsed extending the nuclear the same subsidy wind energy receives: “I know the challenges global warming [presents]… We’ve got to support the existing fleet.”
But while a growing number of Democrats have come to see the importance of fair and equal treatment of clean energy sources to solve climate change, a handful of elected officials remain ideologically opposed to nuclear power — even as they advocate subsidies for wind and solar.
Case in point is Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. Last month Madigan helped kill efforts in the Illinois legislature to support two nuclear plants that are suffering from being excluded from federal subsidies and the Illinois state Renewable Portfolio Standard — both of which Madigan supports. “This proposal would force consumers to pay more only to boost the companies’ profits further,” said Madigan.
Democratic legislators in Springfield were spooked by Madigan’s comments, and the bill died. Days later, Exelon announced it would close the two plants, which would be replaced by natural gas that would increase carbon emissions the equivalent of adding two million cars to the road.
And yet, Madigan has long advocated subsidies for wind and solar and has enjoys a close relationship relationship with wind and solar advocates — some of whom are supported by the very same natural gas, wind and solar corporations that would benefit from the legislation she endorses.
Last August, Madigan advocated for for “clean jobs” legislation that includes large subsidies for wind and and solar — subsidies that would be paid for by higher rates paid by Illinois ratepayers. The so-called “clean jobs” coalition members includes the Environmental Law and Policy Center, which accepts money from natural gas company Invenergy, as well as solar and wind companies that stand to benefit from the closure of Illinois nuclear plants.
And last February, Madigan joined a conference call on the clean power plan that was arranged by the Sierra Club — an organization working to shut down nuclear plants in Illinois and California and replace them with natural gas and renewables. In 2012, the Sierra Club was forced to admit that it secretly took $26 million from natural gas interests. Recently, the Sierra Club has been urging its members to buy solar panels from Sungevity, which turns around and gives $1,000 per homeowner signed up to the Sierra Club.
Notably, if Quad and Clinton are closed, the increased emissions will be one-third of total emissions Illinois is supposed to reduce under the Clean Power Plan.
Madigan needs to address the inconsistency of her position by making a clear statement about why she can justify subsidies for solar and wind but not for nuclear. If she’s ideologically anti-nuclear, as she appears to be, then she needs to explain why. If she’s not, then she needs to explain her double standard. The 2,000 Clinton and Quad workers at risk of being laid off, and the people of Illinois more broadly, deserve an explanation.
I was a bit surprised to find out this group is backed by a couple of Pritzker family members. So the whacks at Madigan, the Sierra Club and the pretty widely respected ELPC were interesting.
* I asked the AG’s office for comment…
We have consistently supported the development of clean energy as a way to reduce carbon emissions and grow our economy. But we’ve also always argued that as the state takes steps to comply with the Clean Power Plan, we must ensure that consumers are treated fairly.
The claim that Exelon’s “nuclear plants … are suffering from being excluded from” subsidies is false. So is the allegation that supporting the development of wind and solar technology while resisting a profitable company’s demand for a state bailout is a “double standard.”
Exelon’s nuclear plants have benefitted from two rounds of Illinois subsidies already. First, Illinois electricity ratepayers paid all of the construction costs for the Illinois nuclear plants. Illinois consumers then paid again when Exelon and others convinced Illinois lawmakers to create a competitive market for electricity and consumers were charged for additional costs associated with the transition to a deregulated supply market. Exelon’s current bailout demand would amount to a third round of subsidies for these plants.
Supporting emerging energy technology – in this case the development of wind and solar technology through the renewable energy portfolio standard – is nothing new. Nuclear power received much greater support when the plants were being developed.
We do not want to see the loss of any Illinois jobs. But the notion that the only way to preserve jobs is to boost Exelon’s profits is false – and ignores Exelon’s and ComEd’s role in creating the current regulatory structure. When electricity costs were higher, Exelon and ComEd pushed for a competitive market for electricity generation, without state regulation. As a result, beginning in 2005, Exelon Generation has posted profits every year, at times over 30 percent a year. But now that natural gas and progress on energy efficiency efforts have driven down electricity prices, Exelon is claiming that some individual plants are not profitable and demanding that Illinois increase consumer charges to protect it from the competitive market.
Notably, Exelon is not offering to pay back the subsidies if the plants once again generate profits. And its supporters never mention that Exelon is a profitable company that could choose to use the company’s profits to preserve the two plants that Illinois consumers have already paid for. What is more, at the same time Exelon has asked Illinois lawmakers for a subsidy, it has successfully encouraged federal ratemaking officials to increase capacity charges, resulting in an additional $264 million in Illinois revenue for this year alone.
Finally, while we are not advocating for nuclear plant closures, it’s false to claim that lost nuclear generation would necessarily be replaced going forward by Illinois gas and coal plants. It is important to remember that Illinois is a net exporter of electricity, and if Illinois nuclear plants are needed to maintain a reliable source of electricity, then federal operators of the power grid will work to prevent their closure. In addition, wind and solar are cost competitive with gas and coal and are only getting cheaper. Encouraging renewables and energy efficiency will allow Illinois to meet our Clean Power Plan obligations cost effectively and without putting ratepayers on the hook to further pad the bottom line of a profitable company.
There are two points in there to think more about. The first is the long history of subsidizing Exelon’s nuke plants. And second is that we produce lots more electricity in this state than we consume.