By Jim Conca
Bills in General Assembly good for Illinois nuclear power, clean energy
Illinois has more nuclear energy generation than any other state–almost half of its electricity comes from nuclear power. Recently, Illinois lawmakers proposed creating a low-carbon standard for energy that meets federal greenhouse gas regulations for the power sector and, for the first time, includes nuclear along with the other low-carbon sources.
The proposed Low-Carbon Portfolio Standard (Illinois HB3293 and SB1585) would require Illinois’ electric utilities to obtain low-carbon energy credits to match an amount equal to 70 percent of the electricity used on the distribution system, supporting generators that don’t create harmful greenhouse gases. Sources include solar, wind, hydro, nuclear, tidal, wave, and clean coal.
Similar to Illinois’ Renewable Portfolio Standard, it would cost customers about $2 a month on their energy bills, and electric cooperatives and municipal utilities wouldn’t be subject to the requirement. The program will end when Illinois implements a program to comply with the U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan, or December 31, 2021, whichever comes first.
The EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan will require all states to reduce carbon emissions from existing power plants. Illinois is tasked with reducing carbon emissions from existing power plants by 30 percent compared to 2005 levels by the year 2030 and must have a plan in place to achieve these reductions by 2017.
Since nuclear energy provides most of Illinois’ low-carbon electricity, there is no way to meet this target unless all low-carbon sources are valued for being low-carbon, especially nuclear.
As Rep. Larry Walsh, Jr. (D., Joliet) put it, “There is simply no way Illinois will achieve meaningful carbon reductions and meet the EPA goals without preserving our current nuclear fleet.”
This Low-Carbon Portfolio Standard was proposed one week after the introduction of a dueling measure, the renewable energy bill (SB1485, HB2607), that supports solar and wind projects but purposefully fails to include nuclear as a low-carbon source. This renewable energy bill elevates renewable energy from its present goal of 25 percent by 2025 to 35 percent by 2030, and also mandates an increase in efficiency.
Those of us who want to move toward a cleaner energy future with less fossil fuel have always been confused as to why some low-carbon sources like wind and solar get mandates and credits while others, like nuclear, do not. Even hydro isn’t always credited with being low-carbon (Hydro vs Wind) just so that wind can get a sweet deal.
If you’re serious about climate change, direct pollution by fossil fuels, ocean acidification or any of a host of environmental issues, you cannot leave out the one energy source, nuclear, that has eliminated the most carbon emissions from America, has the safest track record of any American energy source, including wind, and has created the most highly-paid clean energy jobs in the country.
Energy generator Exelon’s six nuclear plants in Illinois produce 90 percent of the state’s zero-emission electricity, provide it every hour of every day, even during conditions that shut down other sources. They directly and indirectly employ 28,000 people, and provide about $9 billion annually to local economies.
Not surprisingly, a bill that supports nuclear along with renewables has become controversial. Support of the bill by industry leaders, like Exelon, has fueled the controversy.
Headquartered in Chicago, Exelon owns more nuclear plants than any other energy company and is in the spotlight over this legislative debate. But Exelon is the lowest carbon-emitting generator of all the large utility and energy companies.
With an energy mix of 3% oil, 26% natural gas, 11% renewables and 60% nuclear, Exelon understands that unless nuclear is recognized and valued for its low-carbon nature and extreme reliability, it could be pushed out of the market by highly-subsidized but unpredictable renewable sources.
Wind and solar get support for being low-carbon through federal construction and production tax credits, and renewable portfolio standards in about 30 states, including Illinois.
Valuing all energy sources, including nuclear, as low-carbon is not preferential treatment —but tax credits and state mandates solely for renewables or fossil fuel subsidies are.
You can’t disrespect wind because it takes a huge amount of land and is intermittent. You can’t throw out solar because it takes a huge amount of land and is still extremely expensive to manufacture. And you can’t throw out nuclear because the waste is held in limbo because of politics, even though we know exactly what to do with it.
Illinois has a unique opportunity to lead the way to a low-carbon future. So either you reward low-carbon energy sources…or you don’t.This article was originally posted on the Reboot Illinois website, and has been reprinted with Mr. Conca’s full permission.
James Conca is a Ph.D. scientist in the fields of earth and environmental sciences for over 30 years, and is a contributor to Forbes.com. He writes extensively on energy issues. You can follow him on Twitter.