The recent Illinois lobbying corruption scandal involving Exelon Corporation, its subsidiary Commonwealth Edison and Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan demonstrate the extent to which nuclear “power” is about more than electrons. While the FBI arrests of the Ohio House Speaker and 5 others in a $60 million bribery/corruption scheme, the $10 billion Exelon nuclear bailout in New York, the questionable circumstances surrounding Exelon’s 2016 PepCo merger, and the South Carolina $9 billion SCANA fraud case suggest that this may be a national pandemic (summarized nicely in this New York Times piece , “When Utility Money Talks,” 8/2/20), the situation in Illinois with Exelon and its subsidiary ComEd has been long standing and particularly egregious.

For decades Exelon’s stranglehold on Illinois energy legislation in cooperation with the currently investigated Speaker Michael Madigan has not only given Illinois more reactors (14) and high-level radioactive waste (>11,000 tons) than any other state. It has severely stifled expansion of renewable energy and energy efficiency, and hampered the Illinois’ energy transformation needed to deal with the worsening climate crisis.

For decades the Illinois environmental community has seen renewables expansion thwarted by the recognition that no significant renewable energy buildout could occur without concessions to either Exelon or ComEd, and Speaker Madigan’s approval. The most recent instance was the 2016 $2.35 billion bailout of three uncompetitive Exelon reactors.

This “nuclear blackmail” politics has forced enviros wanting to pass new legislation to expand renewables into a reluctant and grudging alliance with Exelon – at Exelon’s price of capacity market “reform” that would reward both renewables and ten of Exelon’s operating reactors. If passed in its presently proposed form, this provides yet another nuclear bailout under the disguise of “market-based reform.”

To ratchet up the pressure to enact this nuclear prop-up even more, Exelon CEO Chris Crane in Exelon’s 2Q quarterly earnings call with analysts once again dangles the prospect of closing up to 6 reactors if this market-based-bailout is not granted in 2021.

Under the current ongoing FBI corruption investigation, this reluctant alliance of necessity has turned disastrous, given the political toxicity of any current association with either ComEd or Exelon.

It is just and reasonable that ComEd (and the so-called “bad apples” who “retired” already) should be penalized and prosecuted for their misdeeds, even if they are reportedly “cooperative.” However, a $200 million “settlement” penalty for a $34 billion corporation that for decades has gouged billions from Illinois ratepayers through admittedly corrupt illegal practices is a slap on the wrist.

Further, the $200 million penalty agreement provides no restitution for the decades-long societal damage done via nuclear pay-for-play. Illinois rate payers deserve restitution from these and any predatory, corrupt companies that would engage in such activities. This may require explicit legislation. How can one logically or ethically assert that ill-gotten gains (e.g., the 2016 $2.35 billion nuclear bailout) are still “good for the public” when bribery and corruption were used to get them?

Last Fall, a spokesperson for Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker stated, “The governor’s priority is to work with principled stakeholders on clean energy legislation that is above reproach.” Gov. Pritzker – your moment of truth has arrived.

We urge the Governor and the legislature to begin the restitution process by repealing the $2.3 billion 2016 nuclear bailout. Further, and as others like Crain’s Joe Cahill have suggested, Christopher Crane must step down completely from all functions at Exelon.

The legislature should also enact explicit utility ethics legislation with transparent oversight of utility contracting and philanthropic giving activities to insure that this kind of corrupt behavior is not repeated. And if Chris Crane’s threat of imminent reactor closure is true, then community just-transitions legislation to protect those negatively impacted communities should be a priority of the legislature. As NEIS has maintained and advocated since 2014 – it’s the reactor communities (and equally adversely affected coal mining and power plant communities) that need state support and bailouts when plants are threatened with closure, not profitable private corporations like Exelon.

Finally, we support the FBI’s continued investigation into the activities of Speaker Madigan, associates, and other legislators if necessary to ferret out the remaining political corruption that has abetted this corporate larceny. This is the only way to send a significant and lasting message that nuclear pay-for-play in Illinois is over.

[NOTE: If you are interested in using the above cartoon, please contact NEIS for conditions of use. Thanks in advance.]

NEIS sponsors a week of activities against premature, hazardous radioactive waste transport through Illinois

NEIS hosted a week of events and activities in response to recent House Congressional legislation that would prematurely place hazardous high-level radioactive waste (HLRW) on our roads, build expensive and unnecessary HLRW storage facilities in Texas and New Mexico, and would reopen development of the flawed site at Yucca Mt., Nevada as the nation’s HLRW disposal repository.

Kevin Kamps, Beyond Nuclear

Kevin Kamps, radioactive waste specialist at Beyond Nuclear of Takoma Park, Maryland was the featured guest speaker at a number of events sponsored by NEIS in Chicago the week of November 12th.

Both Beyond Nuclear and NEIS are part of a national coalition of grassroots, environmental, anti-nuclear and environmental justice groups opposing the HLRW plans advocated in H.R. 3053, sponsored by Rep. John Shimkus (R., IL-15).  The bill – Amendments to the High-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Act – passed the House in early 2018.  However, the Senate has not acted on the bill.  If the Senate does not take it up before Dec. 31st, 2018, the bill is dead and would have to be reintroduced into a now Democratic-controlled House in 2019.

The week got off to a poor start when both Sens. Richard Durbin and Tammy Duckworth declined to meet with Kamps and NEIS in Chicago before returning to the Senate for the year-end session. Read more

A number of us in Chicago were rolling our eyes and yelling at our radios listening to former EPA Administrator Carol Browner, now spokesperson for the Exelon sponsored “Nuclear Matters” interviewedyesterday on our local public radio station, WBEZ, on Monday January 26th.

Dave Kraft, Director of Nuclear Energy Information Service was able to counter her points in an interview the following day on the same radio station.

Carol Browner, Nuclear Matters Interview:

Dave Kraft, Nuclear Energy Information Service Interview:

EXELON NUCLEAR – HOLDING ILLINOIS HOSTAGE YET AGAIN?

The business press has announced that Exelon Corporation now considers the two Byron nuclear reactors south of Rockford as candidates for closure, joining a list that included the two old Quad Cities reactors, and the single Clinton reactor in central Illinois.

CEO Chris Crane and other Exelon executives state that these reactors are losing money, or simply not profitable enough to operate in a current energy market dominated by low gas prices and increasing use of wind power.  Crain’s reports that these six reactors, “…employ more than 2,300 with an annual payroll of $193 million, pay $51 million in taxes to localities and the state and provide enough electricity to light more than 4.2 million homes.”

While Crane had previously stated he would not be asking the State legislature for help, he and Exelon execs have engaged in “briefings” with the likes of Rep. Mike Madigan and Sen.  John Cullerton.  Exelon lobbyists have even floated the idea that poor, disadvantaged nuclear plants operating in a free market system, should now somehow be entitled to a special financial credit for providing cleaner air and 24/7 baseload power.

Ratepayers – it’s time to hide your wallets!

With the exception of being concerned for the welfare of the 2,300 workers and the potentially devastated tax bases that these reactor closures would represent, everything these “briefings” are pointing to is — wrong, wrong, wrong.

Any kind of Legislature-mandated special rate consideration for nuclear reactors is wrong on every count, and should be rejected.

For starters, for decades Exelon and other nuclear reactor operators have extolled the low operating costs of their plants.  Apparently, this is now questionable.  Whether the ancient 42 year-old Quad Cities reactors, or the relatively new 28 year-old Byron reactors – which just last year applied for a 20 year operating extension with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission – it appears that alleged low operating costs either don’t exist, or are not enough to keep the reactors competitive in the 21st Century energy market.

Second, that market happens to be the one crafted by then-ComEd lobbyists in the late 1990s.  Be careful for what you wish (or lobby for) – you might get it.  ComEd/Exelon opted to leave the regulated market structure in favor of what they gambled would be a higher profit free market/merchant plant system.  Now, they don’t like the results of that corporate decision, and seek protection from the capricious child they sired.

Third – if reactors qualify for special rate benefits simply for performing in the manner they were designed and which ComEd/Exelon used as a selling point when building them, shouldn’t other energy resources get similar financial credits for their unique abilities and societal benefits?   Energy efficiency does not create nuclear waste, a societal cost for the next 6,000 generations.  Shouldn’t EE get credit for this avoided cost?  Unlike nuclear power, neither wind nor solar power contributes to the threat of nuclear weapons or materials proliferation.  In fact since they consume no fuel at all, they produce ZERO pollution.  Should not wind and solar get a special and additional non-nuclear proliferation or zero-pollution credit for these major societal benefits?

These three factors (and others) all point to a deep, fundamental problem markedly different from being buffeted by a tough current energy market: Exelon executives have consistently embraced an anachronistic, inflexible, eggs-in-one-basket, and now demonstrably lousy business plan for meeting 21st Century energy needs.  And now they are looking to the 20th Century ratepayer bailout system for relief.

It’s not like they weren’t warned.  As I look at my bookshelf at the 296-page, 2-inch thick testimony of Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain institute titled, “Least-Cost Electrical Service as an Alternative to the Braidwood Project,” filed July 3, 1985 as part of a ComEd rate hike request to build new nuclear reactors, it becomes painfully obvious just how incapable Exelon execs have been these past 28 years to anticipate correctly and adjust to future energy trends.

Much talk in the trade press recently speaks to the “end of utilities” and the crises these face as the 21st Century market continues to bring on renewables with a roar, and demand for electricity stagnates under better energy efficiency measures.  Duke power has recently “got it,” recognizing that they can no longer exist as a utility if they act merely as electron retailers.  They are evolving into becoming an “electric service provider” instead.  These concepts were raised with ComEd in the 1990s by members of the Evanston Energy Commission, which included now U.S Rep. Jan Schakowsky, myself and others, when we were charged to advise the City of Evanston on its franchise negotiations with then-ComEd.  ComEd, and later Exelon execs made the corporate decision to move in a different direction.  They now are paying the price.  Or rather, want Illinois ratepayers or their customers to pay it.

If Exelon intends to survive as a utility, it likewise needs to make these two radical transitions – to 21st Century renewable energy, and to divorce profits from merely selling electrons.  The Legislature should not impede these necessary transitions by granting undeserved, preferential rate relief.

But Exelon will persist in its old ways.  It will hide behind the hostages of the 2,300 workers who might lose their jobs, and loss of $51 million in taxes to localities and the state to continue doing business the way IT wants to, without concessions to change a faulty business model.  Worse, it may be that Exelon will attempt to block reform of the Renewable Energy Portfolio standard unless it gets its ransom money from the Legislature.  Besides showing what a bad actor and lousy neighbor they are, these two possibilities would have truly negative impacts on the State.

During the recent NRC public hearing on the Environmental Impact Statement for the relicensing of the Byron and Braidwood reactors, local politicians, Chamber of Commerce members, School District officials and others could not say enough about what a good neighbor and financial contributor Exelon’s reactors were to their local communities – read “economies.”  We thought it strange that all these economic benefits were offered as testimony at an environmental impact statement hearing, so we put a question to the crowd for their consideration:

What will you do when the reactors close, and the gravy train is over?  If Exelon decides overnight to close the plants, or the NRC orders them closed for some reason, what would an overnight  loss of 75% of your school’s budget, or 50% of your tax base – such as had already occurred to the community of Zion when ComEd pulled the plug in 1998, and Clinton, when the reactors were sold at bargain basement prices, devaluating it in the local tax base – mean to your communities?  What will you DO then?

We did offer the suggestion that the relicensing period offered a time for these civic leaders to begin to plan for such closures, since they were inevitable.  We offered a direct suggestion that communities need to begin negotiations with Exelon to create an escrowed “reactor termination fund”, to protect the local schools, economies and tax bases from the abrupt loss of funds in case of the closure of the reactors.  Money could be deposited into the fund as a small, negotiated percentage of plant profits, and could be used during a “closure period” by the local communities to offset some of the abrupt negative effects of the loss of so large a local employer.  And finally — we also pointed out that reactor operation or closure would be an Exelon corporate choice, official federal mandate, or nuclear disaster – not up for a community vote.

We received no reply.

Perhaps if the Legislature is to be involved in this new Illinois nuclear hostage crisis, its proper role would be to negotiate for the release of the nuclear hostages – unharmed; not reward the hostage takers.

EMERGENCY ALERT!  Your Action Needed TODAY!

In cooperation with Exelon Corporation,  Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan has introduced a RESOLUTION, HR 1146, NUCLEAR POWER PLANT CLOSURES,  (http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/default.asp )  which if passed would essentially “nuke” renewable energy in Illinois, and guarantee that nuclear and coal would be the mainstay of Illinois electricity production for the foreseeable future.  We attach a highlighted version of the Resolution with this Alert on our Literature page and available here:

The Resolution is actually a piece of a national program Exelon is orchestrating (with the help of folks like ALEC and others) to keep old nuclear plants which have been losing money for years in operation.  Last week in the Legislature, Madigan and Exelon conspired on an agreement to kill the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard fix, in exchange for Exelon keeping running for the next year five nuclear reactors it said were unprofitable, and was threatening to close.  This week Exelon and Madigan are attempting to unleash every aspect of State government to support the continuation of running nuclear reactors, potentially awarding them “clean energy credits” like solar and wind would get, and use the upcoming EPA air standards as a way to use nukes to offset the pollution from coal plants, many of which face shutdown from the tireless work of environmental groups around the state, allowing them to continue operating.

This Resolution is not just a pro-nuke resolution.  It is an overt effort to destroy renewable energy statewide, a way to keep dirty coal plants running, and a way to continue and make permanent the outdated system of “centralized baseload power”, in spite of the fact that the Legislature already granted ComEd 10 years of rate increases to finish a “smart grid” which was supposed to replace the outdated baseload utility model, and be more renewables friendly.

WHAT YOU MUST DO BY MONDAY, MAY 26 (they’re in session on the holiday):

This is the most serious threat to renewable energy we’ve ever seen coming from the State Legislature.  If Michael Madigan wants to “nuke” renewables, then we must have the guts and determination to go “kamikaze” on Mike Madigan and Exelon.  This Resolution is the Armageddon of energy for Illinois.  Here’s what we ask, beg, implore each and every one of you to do:

1.)  CONTACT YOUR STATE LEGISLATORS, (http://www.illinois.gov/Government/Pages/LegislativeBranch.aspx )  telling them to oppose HR1146, no ands ifs or buts.  No compromises.  Just VOTE NO.

2.)  Contact Speaker Michael Madigan’s Office, (mapes@hds.ilga.gov ; jmiller@hds.ilga.gov ;  (217) 782-5350;  (773) 581-8000), with two messages:  1.) KILL HR1146, and 2.) if the Resolution passes, you will be withholding all financial and volunteer support for any and all Democratic candidates for local, state, and federal office in the next election in November.

3.) “Kamikaze” Mike:  this one might not be the most important, but it will be the most fun.  Contact any of the Democratic fundraising and volunteer organizations you know, and tell THEM that you will not be providing support to the party’s candidates this Fall, if Michael Madigan’s Resolution is not killed.  And don’t just say it; mean it and do it!

People, please get this – polite people get polluted!  We are up against the wall.  Exelon and Madigan are prepared to turn back the clock 40 years on our State’s energy future.  You’ve got to overcome any sense of “embarrassment” or even party loyalty and directly confront this threat.  These people don’t care about you or your kids.  You’re going to have to be tough and brave enough to confront them head on, and that might mean doing some unfamiliar and uncomfortable things.  The very future of renewable energy in Illinois, and the 90,000 direct and indirect jobs it provides,  is at stake with this vote.  Whose side will you be on?