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Exelon: 'Clean-energy' bill could save Clinton plant

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Clinton power station

The Clinton Power Station stands on the edge of Clinton Lake, about 6 miles east of Clinton.

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SPRINGFIELD — New legislation that supporters hope would stave off the threatened closure of financially struggling nuclear power plants in Clinton and the Quad Cities was unveiled Thursday by plant owner Exelon Generation.

Exelon Generation and ComEd officials released details of the proposed bill known as the Next Generation Energy Plan. They said it would promote clean, carbon-emission-free energy and provide the financial relief Exelon claims it needs to keep the two nuclear plants operating. 

"Our families and our way of life will be devastated if the Illinois General Assembly fails to act now on this important legislation," said Clinton city Administrator Tim Followell in a prepared statement Thursday.

The average residential customer would see an increase of 25 cents per month on their power bill, company officials said in a conference call with media. Officials did not offer an estimate of the total cost of the bill.

Company officials said the bill, a product of months of negotiations with various stakeholders, should satisfy concerns from some environmental groups that have opposed earlier, similar proposals.

The plan has bipartisan support in Springfield and from labor and community organizations, officials said, expressing hope it would be acted on this spring. 

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Heavy financial losses could force the early decommissioning of the Clinton plant in 2017 and one in the Quad Cities a year later, according to Exelon.  

The plan calls for creating a new zero emission standard that extends assistance for carbon-free power generation to financially at-risk nuclear plants. State regulators would review each plant to determine whether it is entitled to compensation because its revenue isn't enough to cover costs and operating risk.

The new standard "will create a level playing field for all clean energy sources to compete," said Joe Dominquez, Exelon's executive vice president of governmental and regulatory affairs and public policy, in a prepared statement. 

Critics of the bill included some consumer advocacy groups such as the Illinois Public Interest Research Group. “Instead of evolving and innovating alongside the modern energy marketplace, ... ComEd is regressing by trying to force their customers to pay mandatory fees regardless of how much electricity they use,” said its director, Abraham Scarr, in a news release. 

Exelon and ComEd also said the proposed legislation includes doubling of energy efficiency programs in northern Illinois to create $4.1 billion in savings, $1 billion for energy-efficiency assistance to low-income customers and $140 million in rebate incentives for solar power development.

The proposal was welcome news to Clinton officials who have grown increasingly worried about the future of the Clinton plant, which employs about 700 workers and provides substantial property tax revenue to DeWitt County and its schools.

"This keeps us and the Quad Cities open," said Followell, adding, "I think there needs to be a good, long-term plan for nuclear."

Craig Nesbit, vice president of communications for Exelon, said the proposal is a comprehensive energy plan that "puts Illinois in the forefront in terms of moving the state to a no-carbon future."

If allowed to remain open, the Clinton plant "has 50 years of life left in it," said Nesbit. The Quad Cities facility also has decades of operating life, he said. 

The Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition, a key environmental lobby group, has its own renewable-energy bill pending in Springfield that calls for investment in solar and wind energy and a reduction in carbon pollution from the electric sector.

"The Coalition has engaged in productive discussions with ComEd and Exelon Generation that achieves these goals. At this time, those discussions have not concluded, and we have not yet reached an agreement," the coalition said in a statement.

Company officials said Thursday that specific information on the two nuclear plants at risk of closure will be discussed Friday during a quarterly earnings update with stockholders. 

"We've been clear that the future market revenues are just not sufficient to cover the costs," said Fidel Marquez, ComEd's senior vice president of governmental and external affairs. 

Exelon Follow Edith Brady-Lunny on Twitter: @pg_blunny

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