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A $580 million hit on our pocketbooks

Illinois consumers complain all the time about the power markets not working for them. For months now, we’ve also been hearing complaints from Exelon, the parent company of ComEd.

Despite making $21 billion in profits over the last decade, Exelon says it needs help from ratepayers to boost revenue at its Illinois fleet of nuclear power plants. And the power giant has raised the specter of shuttering three (Byron, Clinton, Quad Cities) of its six plants if it doesn’t get some type of help from the Illinois General Assembly.

In a Chicago Tribune guest column in March, CUB Executive Director David Kolata countered that “anything resembling a full-fledged bailout of Exelon’s plants would be radioactive for our pocketbooks.”

How radioactive? Recently, Crain’s Chicago Business reported that Exelon told state regulators it would have to boost its revenue by $580 million to at least keep most of the plants operating.

And while Exelon is trying to deny any mention of a “bailout,” whatever it’s called would ultimately slam consumers. “It’s a huge amount of money,” Kolata told Crain’s. “If that’s going to be their ask, they’ll be getting all the profits without any of the risk. That would be an awfully hard hit to consumers.”

This sets the stage for a huge battle in Springfield during the spring legislative session. CUB will be there!

So why is Exelon doing this? For years, the company’s nuclear power plants reaped benefits from high electricity prices. But wholesale power prices have fallen, thanks to a surge in natural gas supply and increased energy efficiency. Exelon’s business model just isn’t the winner it used to be.

So the company that has been a powerful advocate for free energy markets now bemoans the same markets it helped create. As the headline to a Crain’s Chicago Business column proclaimed:  “Exelon loves free markets–until it doesn’t.”

Stay tuned.