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Doomed U.S. Nuclear Power Plants May Get Financial Reprieve

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The Illinois House has passed a bill envisaging some $700 million in incentives for two nuclear power plants operated by Exelon that the company earlier this year said it will shut down, in a move that could be a win for the entire U.S. nuclear industry.

“What the House has accomplished tonight is monumental and life changing for the future generations of Illinois,” House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, said, as quoted by Reuters. “Illinois is on the path to a greener future that prioritizes a reduction in carbon emissions, saves jobs, diversifies the energy sector and tackles necessary ethics reform.”

This is perhaps somewhat unusual behavior: the economic viability of nuclear power in an energy system that has increasingly been relying on cheap gas thanks to the shale revolution has been questions on multiple occasions. However, as nuclear power plants supply emission-free electricity, some, including the International Energy Agency, argue that they not only have a place but are an indispensable part of the energy transition.

Despite the damage done to nuclear power plant competitiveness by gas-fired generation and by the much trendier wind and solar, Exelon sought to keep its Illinois plants alive by applying for state subsidy. When this failed, the company said in July this year it had informed regulators it planned to shut down the facilities.

“The filings are among the final steps in retiring the plants, which face revenue shortfalls in the hundreds of millions of dollars due to low energy prices and market policies that give fossil fuel plants an unfair competitive advantage,” Exelon said at the time.

“Absent a legislative solution, these same market inequities will force the company to close its Braidwood and LaSalle nuclear facilities sometime in the next few years.”

Now it seems the legislative solution is close to becoming available. Per the Reuters report, Senate President Don Harmon said the Senate will, on Monday, “advance this vital proposal to the governor’s desk so it can become law.”

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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