CLINTON — Clinton Chamber of Commerce Director Marian Brisard thinks the time has arrived for DeWitt County residents to change their mindset from wondering if the Clinton Power Station will close, to when it will close.
Earlier this month, Exelon announced the nuclear power plant is committed to operating through May 31, 2017. But the plant's future is up in the air after that.
“We know it’s going to happen eventually,” Brisard said. “We hope that it won’t have a premature closure. That’s the problem right now. We know they aren’t ready to go, and the community isn’t ready for them to go. We have all been kind of not thinking about this, but now it is blatantly clear that we have to begin thinking about it. It’s going to be a big impact on our community, almost as much as when Revere left.”
The Corning Revere plant opened in 1950, but closed in July 1999. About 350 workers lost their jobs. Of the 692 Exelon employees of the power plant, about 200 live in DeWitt County, said company officials.
"Those are good jobs and will leave the community,” said Clinton City Administrator Tim Followell. “You can’t replace those jobs because many of them are specific to the nuclear power industry. You can’t just build a new one to replace those.”
Exelon officials said an analysis by the state of Illinois concludes closure of the plant would result in the loss of almost 1,900 direct and indirect jobs.
In October 1970, Illinois Power Company officials announced plans to build a $429 million power plant with a 5,000-acre cooling lake. Early estimates placed the cost at about $500 million. By the time it went online in September 1987, the price tag was estimated at $4.25 billion, making it the second most expensive nuclear reactor in the United States at the time.
Ruth Stauffer, executive director of the DeWitt County Development Council, said more than 100 homes could be on the market if the plant closes.
“The plant has always been scheduled to close in 2026 and that’s not that far away,” she said, referring to expiration of the plant's current reactor operating license that was issued April 17, 1987, and will expire Sept. 29, 2026.
“We are going to lose the people who have come here specifically because of the nuclear plant. And, then when you have more than 100 homes that are empty, think of the ramifications on property taxes and local sales throughout the county. It will be a dramatic effect.”
Officials said the premature retirement of the Clinton Power Station also would have a huge impact on local government and school finances.
For tax year 2014, Clinton’s tax payments to local taxing bodies were $13 million, said Brett Nauman, communications manager at the Clinton Power Station. The Clinton Community School District received $8.3 million, accounting for 53 percent of its property tax revenue.
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“To lose the Clinton Power Station would be devastating to us, to say the least,” said Clinton Superintendent Curt Nettles.
Nettles is in his first year at Clinton, and before taking the job, he knew the upcoming risks due to frequent discussions with former superintendent Jeff Holmes.
“If the plant closes and we lose tax revenue, then what we will do is present options to our community and give them some scenarios,” said Nettles. “We will say this is what the loss of the tax dollars will do to our programs and staff and here is the tax rate if you want to keep this or that. My hope is that we will land somewhere in the middle between what we have now and what we will lose.”
Other taxing districts at risk include: Richland Community College District that received $1.1 million in 2014; DeWitt County ($2.2 million); and the Vespasian Warner Public Library in Clinton ($446,928).
The City of Clinton would lose $84,000 annually for fire protection services, but the community would be affected in other ways, too.
“The company does so much charity and in-kind work that it would really hurt a lot of the local agencies and organizations,” said Followell. “It’s not just the company, it’s the employees themselves. They are very good at donating their time and money for good causes.”
In 2014, for example, Clinton Power Station employees raised more than $100,000 for local organizations and sponsored blood drives for local hospitals, said Clinton Police Chief Ben Lowers.
“The plant employs a large number of veterans that have either fund raised or individually donated more than $40,000 to the Wounded Warrior Project since 2013,” he said. “These employees are highly skilled, civic-minded people that take pride in our community and band together when things get tough. These individuals spend their money at local businesses and restaurants, too.”
The potential closure of the plant was a factor that Save-A-Lot grocery store owner Dave Jackson considered before he announced plans to build a new store in Clinton.
“It gives me cause for concern, but it didn’t stop my plans,” he said. “I’m optimistic opening a new store is the right thing to do, but the loss of the plant would have a major impact on every aspect of this community. They have been an extremely good neighbor and have been a great support to the local economy.”
“It’s a day I never hope will come,” added County Board Chairman Dave Newberg. “It’s a tremendous asset and it is great for jobs and people spending money in DeWitt County and our neighboring counties.
"Everyone would suffer and the school districts would take a big hit so we have to do everything we can to make sure this remains in operation. We have to fight this and I believe our residents will do that.”