Exelon to retire 2 Illinois plant; officials say no impact on Fitz, NMP

The James A. FitzPatrick Nuclear Reactor building, seen during refueling in February 2017.

CHICAGO — The parent company of Oswego County’s three nuclear reactors has announced its intentions to retire two generating stations in Illinois, but officials say it will have little to no impact on local facilities.

Exelon Generation’s Byron and Dresden Nuclear Generating Stations will go offline in 2021, according to reports out of the Windy City and confirmed Wednesday by local company officials. The Dresden plant is located southeast of Chicago on the Rock River, and Dresden’s reactor is northeast of the city roughly halfway between Madison, Wisconsin.

The news raised eyebrows in the local nuclear community after the fates of two other Exelon Illinois reactors and Scriba’s James A. FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant were intertwined during the tumultuous summer of 2016. That year, Exelon’s corporate office announce two other Illinois plants — the Quad Cities and Clinton generating stations — would be decommissioned; Entergy, FitzPatrick's then-owner, announced at roughly the same time that FitzPatrick would also be taken out of service.

Company and government officials eventually hammered out a deal that guaranteed both New York and Illinois would subsidize nuclear energy in their states by the creation of so-called zero-emission tax credits. The Empire State deal, reportedly worth north of $7 billion over 15 years, proved enticing enough to motivate Exelon to offer Entergy $110 million to buy FitzPatrick outright. The 40-year-old facility was saved from the chopping block, to much fanfare.

Exelon officials told The Palladium-Times that despite the previous connection, the shutdown of the Byron and Dresden plants would have no impact on FitzPatrick, or the nearby Nine Mile Point Nuclear Generating Station also owned by Exelon. The two plants operate a total of three reactors.

Company leadership took the opportunity to blast the circumstances they say led to the decision to close the Illinois facilities citing “market rules that favor polluting power plants over carbon-free nuclear energy.”

“Although we know in our heads that shutting down (Dresden and Byron) is necessary to preserve even more jobs elsewhere, our hearts ache today for the thousands of talented women and men that have served Illinois families for more than a generation and will lose their jobs because of poorly conceived energy policies,” said Christopher Crane, president and CEO of Exelon. “But we are only about a year away from shutdown and we need to give our people, the host communities, and regulators time to prepare.”

According to Exelon, the next steps for the plants are:

•    Make official shutdown notifications to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission within 30 days;

•    Terminate capital investment projects required for long term operation of Dresden and Byron; and

•    Scale back the refueling outages scheduled for this fall at Dresden and Byron. The move will result in spending reductions of $50 million and the elimination of up to 1,400 of the more than 2,000 mostly union jobs typically associated with the two refueling outages.

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