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Exelon’s ‘radioactive’ bailout plan?

The electricity market has been very good to ComEd-parent Exelon over the last decade, helping the company reap more than $21 billion in profits thanks to high power prices and its fleet of nuclear power plants.

But times have changed: Wholesale prices have fallen, thanks to a surge in natural gas supply, not to mention a greater emphasis on energy efficiency. Suddenly, Exelon is complaining about the markets it helped to create–and it’s proposing what looks and smells like a big state bailout.

Crains Chicago Business reporter Steve Daniels first broke the story in early March, writing that the company was threatening to close up to three of its six Illinois nuclear plants unless state legislators force consumers to pay more to boost Exelon profits and protect the power giant from market risk. This is the same company that in the past has opposed similar subsidies for competitors.

Exelon’s hypocrisy hasn’t been lost on other players in the power markets, like NRG CEO David Crane, who drew laughs at a recent Chicago talk when he criticized Exelon’s move and assured the crowd he’s not anti-nuclear, “just anti-B.S.”

CUB Executive Director David Kolata also fired off a response in a Chicago Tribune guest column: “A bill that would insulate Exelon from the costs of its business decisions, while obligating consumers to pay the consequences, would be the financial equivalent of nuclear waste. Lawmakers should reject any one-sided proposal that causes this kind of fallout for consumers.”

We don’t know full details of an Exelon plan, but just the idea will be hard to stomach for Illinois consumers who hear that Exelon’s CEO just got a 70 percent raise. If Springfield decides to move forward on this shaky proposal, Kolata also offers a few consumer safeguards that would have to be part of any deal. But he warns: “Anything resembling a full-fledged bailout of Exelon’s plants would be radioactive for our pocketbooks.”