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UPDATE 1-Illinois could vote Tuesday on bill that aims to save nuclear plants

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  • NG=F
  • EXC

(Adds Illinois governor veto threat, new comment from Illinois Senate president)

By Timothy Gardner

Aug 31 (Reuters) - The Illinois legislature is edging closer to a vote as soon as Tuesday on a bill that aims to prevent two nuclear power plants from shutting, as the owner moves to close the first plant next month unless the state acts.

The legislature could vote in a special session on a compromise of a wide-ranging energy bill, introduced Monday, or a narrow version of it that would allow nuclear plants to earn carbon mitigation credits for generating virtually emissions-free power. Tuesday's session is on legislative mapping, but could include the energy bill vote.

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat who supports plans to save the nuclear plants, would veto the wider bill as it would allow some coal plants to keep running if emissions are cut by 50% by 2040, his spokesperson said.

But John Patterson, a spokesperson for Don Harmon, a Democrat and the Illinois Senate president, said Harmon is "optimistic that we’ll be able to find a winning balance of renewable, reliable and affordable energy policies for the people of Illinois."

Lawmakers were set to meet on Tuesday to consider a measure on the bill.

Exelon Corp has said it will close the Byron nuclear plant in mid September and the Dresden plant in November if a state or federal program does not come to the rescue.

Gina McCarthy, President Joe Biden's climate adviser, has said existing nuclear plants are "absolutely essential" to hit U.S. goals to decarbonize the electric grid by 2035 and the administration has supported federal incentives for the nuclear industry.

Incentives are included in bipartisan infrastructure and reconciliation bills being considered by the U.S Congress. But Exelon has said these alone would come too late to save Byron and Dresden.

The bill has been delayed on disagreements on issues including when coal and natural gas plants would be phased out or be required to add emissions-capturing technology. The Byron and Dresden plants have more than 1,500 workers, many in high-paying union jobs.

"Hopefully ... we can finish up what little is left on the table," said Illinois State Senator Sue Rezin, a Republican, who has the Dresden plant in her district.

The United States has 93 nuclear reactors, more than any other country but down from 104 in 2012 as aging plants struggle to compete with power generated by solar and wind farms and plants that burn natural gas. (Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by David Gregorio and Mark Porter)