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Illinois is running out of time to Save Jobs and Protect its Energy Future

The Byron Generating Station towers close to Route 64 near Rochelle in 2014.

On Tuesday, the Illinois legislature returns to Springfield for a special session that will allow lawmakers to pass an energy bill that could save Illinois’ nuclear fleet and the thousands of jobs and countless communities that depend on it.

Illinois is less than a month away from the scheduled shutdown of the Byron Generating Station and less than three months from the shutdown of the Dresden Generating Station.

We are running out of days to save 1,500 permanent well-paying jobs, 2,000 supplemental jobs and the carbon-free energy these two plants provide to Illinois ratepayers.

Saving these plants isn’t just about preventing the economic devastation that will undoubtedly be felt throughout our Illinois communities for decades. Protecting the plants will also support green energy throughout the state. About 54% of Illinois’ total electricity and 90% of Illinois’ carbon-free energy come from our state’s nuclear fleet. Byron and Dresden alone contribute about a third of the state’s carbon-free energy. If lawmakers allow these two nuclear power plants to be decommissioned, they will eliminate any chance of achieving Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s goal of a carbon-free Illinois by 2050.

Allowing these plants to close would also have severe consequences for the health of Illinois residents. According to a 2019 report by the Clean Air Task Force, Illinoisans would pay $4.4 billion to $10 billion monetized damages due to increased air pollution annually. Also according to their report, there would be between 500 to 1,100 premature deaths and over 13,000 additional asthma attacks and other respiratory symptoms leading to limited daily activities, attributable to the increased air pollution from the two plants’ closures.

Recently, after it was revealed that the U.S. Senate’s infrastructure plan included a credit program to help keep existing nuclear units online, some Illinois legislators and energy stakeholders publicly questioned the urgency to pass Illinois-based clean-energy legislation. They believe that the Illinois General Assembly should wait for the federal government’s infrastructure plan before we pass any energy legislation in Springfield.

The reality is that it just isn’t possible for Illinois to wait. Illinois cannot afford to bide its time for federal funding because the funding for nuclear power contained in the U.S. Senate plan would come too little, too late, to save the Byron and Dresden plants. Firstly, the federal infrastructure bill has been passed only in the U.S. Senate and has yet to be voted on in the U.S. House of Representatives. By the time this bill passes, if it passes at all, and is implemented, the nuclear plants in Byron and Dresden will have already been shut down.

Sadly, Exelon’s decision to shut down these plants in September and November isn’t going to change because of potential aid that will take months or even years to materialize. The corporation has repeatedly stated that both plants need to be refueled this fall. Refueling a nuclear power plant represents a commitment to operate for up to two more years, and without policy and funding certainty, the company will not make that commitment. This deadline doesn’t give lawmakers any more time to waste to save thousands of jobs and prevent an immediate environmental impact equivalent to putting 4.4 million additional cars on the road.

Illinois legislators and energy stakeholders can and should continue negotiations on the long-term components that have been holding up the passage of a comprehensive bill that will strengthen and improve Illinois’ energy future.

However, with so many Illinois communities’ economic future on the line, we cannot afford to wait for the demands of every interest group to be completely satisfied in a comprehensive energy package. While the overall package has yet to garner enough support from all stakeholders to secure its passage, the provisions in the energy package that are needed to preserve our state’s nuclear fleet have broad agreement.

The General Assembly needs to vote right now — this week — to save these nuclear plants or accept responsibility for the years of devastation if they continue to stall.

State Sen. Sue Rezin is deputy leader of the Senate Republicans, minority spokesperson for the Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee, and member of the National Conference of State Legislatures’ Task Force on Energy Supply. Her legislative district includes the Braidwood, Dresden and LaSalle generating stations. Terry McGoldrick is International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 15 president, business manager and financial secretary.

-(Chuck Berman / Chicago Tribune)


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