Protecting nuclear plants should be key provision of Illinois climate policy

  • Madison Czerwinski

    Madison Czerwinski

 
By Madison Czerwinski
Guest columnist
Posted5/2/2021 1:00 AM

Springfield is debating whether to save Illinois' nuclear plants from premature closure. Our plants are being forced to compete against historically cheap natural gas in an electricity market that ignores the impact of greenhouse gas emissions.

Now, a new working paper by economists from Carnegie Mellon shows the Zero Emissions Credits (ZECs) program implemented to prevent the closure of the Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear plants in Illinois in 2016 led to cleaner air and lower carbon emissions while simultaneously saving us money on our electricity bills.

 

With Byron and Dresden slated for closure before the end of the year, Illinois has a chance to do it again. The governor, plant operator, communities and unions are all for it. So who's against it and why?

Giant environmental groups like the NRDC and the Sierra Club, along with some state organizations like the Illinois Environmental Council, are backing the cynically named "Clean Energy Jobs Act" (CEJA). This bill would result in our nuclear plants closing rapidly, first by failing to save Byron and Dresden this year and then by keeping in place the damaging forces that will close the other plants.

The bill says that all of our plants will have to close by 2050 anyway, so no loss really. This is a lie. The plants' closure is not an inevitability. Around the world, older nuclear plants of the same type as ours are performing better and better over the years as opposed to aging the way CEJA lobbyists claim.

CEJA also claims that Illinois will get 100% of its electricity from wind and solar by 2050. But whenever a state or country attempts this, catastrophic difficulties arise by the time the grid reaches about 30% renewables. Texas and California have arrived at the point where bad weather conditions lead to blackouts because the sun doesn't always shine and the wind doesn't always blow.

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Fossil fuels replace nuclear everywhere it is phased out. In Illinois, losing Byron and Dresden would leave us reliant on more out-of-state natural gas.

A report from the Brattle Group reveals that losing the state's nuclear plants would cost consumers $483 million annually. The extra revenue would mainly support fossil fuel plants in Indiana and Ohio.

The environmental groups pushing for this CEJA nuclear phaseout bill are advocating for a plan that would cripple the state's decarbonization efforts and make our electricity more expensive. Why are they advocating for the elimination of 90% of Illinois' carbon-free electricity? It seems they would be happier with fossil fuels than our existing clean energy.

Illinois is the best in the nation at delivering cheap electricity around the clock without emissions. But that's only because of our six outstanding nuclear plants. Losing these facilities would mean fewer jobs, dirtier air, and increasing reliance on fossil fuels.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

To save the plants, unions worked with legislators to write a competing bill, the Climate Union Jobs Act (CUJA). CUJA recognizes the crucial role nuclear plants play in this success and prioritizes preserving them. It fixes the key flaws with the way our nuclear plants are treated by the interstate electricity market, which will keep them around at low cost to consumers. Our bills may even go down again as with the last subsidy.

CUJA also ensures that any renewable energy built in the state provides benefits and jobs to in-state workers and communities, not just international engineering firms, banks and hedge funds. It requires the mainly seasonal construction jobs created by wind and solar farms to meet higher standards than the current norm in the industry. This means that the benefits of wind and solar will stay more local, a necessary attribute that other states and countries around the world are only too late realizing they should have guaranteed ahead of time.

Passing CUJA would reaffirm Illinois's status as a clean energy leader today and secure a low-carbon future for our children. Enacting an energy plan that requires shutting down the crown jewels of our clean energy economy would be a disaster for our communities, our citizens and the environment.

• Madison Czerwinski, of Chicago, is executive director of Campaign for a Green Nuclear Deal.

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