Illinois Energy and a Note on Nukes 

The Wall Street Journal article late last week claiming that environmentalists were warming up to nuclear energy. While NRDC wasn’t claimed as a nuclear supporter, the story highlighted coalition negotiations underway in the Illinois General Assembly:

"In Illinois, the Natural Resources Defense Council, along with the Sierra Club and EDF, are among the advocacy groups working with Exelon and state lawmakers on a legislative deal that would reverse a decision the company made in early June to close two nuclear reactors in the next two years. The agreement would promote more energy efficiency and renewable energy while ensuring the reactors remain in operation by providing financial recognition for the zero-carbon electricity they produce."

The Journal correctly notes that NRDC is engaged with allies in legislative negotiations on energy policy in Illinois. But the Journal is dead wrong on our goals, focus and motivation. Our effort to reform energy policy does not involve, or signal, a change in NRDC's long-held concerns about the role of nuclear energy in the country's generation mix. That is especially true in Illinois, the state with the greatest number of nuclear reactors and waste in the entire country. Our efforts to negotiate an agreement with Exelon involves a continuing dedication to transform the Illinois energy landscape and advance a new, clean energy economy—which are desperately needed. 

Note that in 2012, Illinois installed the second-most wind turbines in the nation. But due to legal and policy barriers, almost none have been built since then. Outdated energy policy at the root of this situation must be addressed, particularly the structural reforms to the state’s renewable energy portfolio (RPS). Clean energy performance in Illinois will remain dismal until the RPS is fixed.

Working in a coalition with a robust group of environmentalists, businesses and consumer groups, we have been advocating for legislation to increase renewable energy and energy efficiency that would create thousands of jobs across the state. And we have made great headway, despite the gridlock in Illinois’ General Assembly which has now gone more than a year without passing a budget for the state. Exelon has been busy too, lobbying members of the Illinois General Assembly and Governor to help develop solutions for their plants that they have threatened to close without state assistance —and leadership in the legislature has urged negotiation between the parties.

Our Midwest Legislative Director, Nick Magrisso, blogged in detail on a bill that already contains language that would make Illinois one of the nation’s leaders in energy efficiency thanks to commitments by ComEd, Exelon's subsidiary, to nearly double their energy efficiency investments that will lessen our dependence on baseload power plants like coal, gas and nuclear plants. That agreement was reached, in large part, thanks to NRDC's efforts and a strong coalition that wants to see transformation in the electric sector and economy.

Negotiations are ongoing and there is strong potential for a truly transformative agreement if all the pieces are fit together in a way that builds the clean energy economy for decades to come. 

Current proposals by Exelon would bring financial assistance to the company's two economically distressed nuclear facilities, as noted in the Wall Street Journal. Exelon has begun taking steps to close these money-losing plants. Without the renewable and energy efficiency policies NRDC have been advocating for, the energy from those plants are more likely to be replaced with dirty fossil fuels which could lead to more carbon pollution. Our coalition is negotiating to ensure an orderly and just transition that will help ensure that when nuclear plants close (whether for financial reasons or reaching the end of their design life), efforts should be focused on how to replace them with energy efficiency gains and clean power from the wind and sun, not dirty fossil fuels. Without fixing the state’s flawed renewable energy policies, that cannot happen—so this is a conversation NRDC will continue to encourage in Illinois.

About the Authors

Henry Henderson

Director, Midwest program

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