Everything in its own time.  Or so the old saying goes.  The Illinois Legislature demonstrated that old maxim once again by failing to vote before the end of Spring session on a critical piece of energy legislation designed to create Illinois’ energy future.

The Planet has its own schedule, too.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) frantically warned in October 2018 that we humans have at best 10 years left – until 2028 – to totally revamp our energy and economic systems, or risk an irreversible climate crisis that could threaten the very functioning of civilization as we have come to know it.  In this regard it’s important to recall another old maxim:  Nature bats last.

Like the grasshoppers in Aesop’s Fable, we, the Governor, and the Legislature ignore this imminent peril, and instead, content ourselves to “Count the victories,” as House Speaker Chris Welch, D-Hillside, advised yesterday as the clock stroked midnight.  Well, looks like it will now be easier to get to-go cocktails.  Come 2029 and beyond, we will need them, and much more.

In its neglect the Legislature once again failed to act to expand renewable energy and energy efficiency; close down dirty energy plants; protect communities and workers adversely affected by nuclear and coal plant closures; expand job and business equity and just-transitions in communities adversely affected by dirty energy; and most urgently — address the climate crisis.

Perhaps almost as important, the Governor and the Legislature failed to act to end Exelon’s “Nuclear Hostage Crisis” business model consisting of threatening plant closures and jobs and tax-base loss if they don’t get ratepayer subsidized bailouts to prop up money-losing nuclear plants (and the corporate bottom line).  In other circles making threats to extract financial concessions is less-delicately known as – extortion.

While it appears at least for the moment ratepayers will not be turned into Exelon’s personal ATM through another nuclear bailout, unconfirmed reports tell that Governor Pritzker and his negotiators are still willing to play Exelon’s “Nuclear Hostage Crisis” game, reportedly offering as much as $600 million over 5 years to keep open three (it USED to be only 2) money-losing nuclear plants.  Earlier, the State commissioned an independent audit that determined that Exelon’s two financial dogs only needed ~$70 million per year for 5 years at most, maybe less if energy prices improved.  But – why let facts get in the way?

Such a bailout would ostensibly save the 1,500+** jobs at the Dresden and Byron nuclear plants – at a cost to ratepayers of ~$400,000** per job. (or is it – per vote?) Theoretically, that’s progress.  The 2016 bailout “saved” nuclear plants jobs at the tune of ~$1.5 million per job.

Beyond the immediate failure to launch a desperately needed energy future, it is also important to note that whatever energy legislation would have or still will be passed, many significant nuclear power issues remain unaddressed or totally ignored:  more nuclear waste production; totally absent fiscal oversight of reactor decommissioning funds; maintaining safe operations during future pandemics; the implications of the creation of Exelon’s “SpinCo” corporation consisting of (still money-losing) nuclear reactors.

At the federal level, regulators at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) are contemplating allowing plants to operate for up to 100 years – begging the question that, if these reactors are not profitable now and need bailing out, will this Nuclear Hostage Crisis go on for the next 40-50 years of plant operations, as the reactors age and expensive safety-related repairs are needed?  Who will be asked to pay for these? SpinCo with a gaggle of nuclear LLCs?  (guess again!).

And the Biden Administration is also making plans to allocate as much as $200 BILLION over the next ten years for nuclear power, much of it to create a “zero-emissions credit” (ZECs) fund to bailout out money-losing, uncompetitive nuclear power plants nationwide.  Will Exelon refund any current bailouts if this plan is adopted?

There will be energy legislation.  There must be.  When it is finally taken up, we sincerely hope that these significant issues are at the forefront of detailed, transparent, and public-involving discussion.

We have a nuclear rhino in the living room, and can no longer dance around her. Stop paying off the nuclear hostage takers. No more nuclear bailouts.  If we want a truly clean-energy future, then build one – NOW.  We won’t get one by bailing out the past.  If we fail to do this, we’ll need a lot more than cocktails to-go.

[**NOTE:  recalculated from original using updated figures.]