“If the units at risk of closing today -- representing 43 percent of the state’s nuclear generation -- retire, they cannot be mothballed and later brought back online,” she said. “Together they represent more than 30 million metric tons of avoided carbon emissions, given that they will need to be replaced with fossil generation to provide the around-the-clock electricity needed to serve customers in the state.”
That’s true. Nuclear energy is not really properly valued for its presence in the proposed EPA climate change rule (which of course could change before it is finalized), and one consequence of that would be that shuttered nuclear plants would lead to higher carbon emissions – and cause states to miss their targets. If you consider climate change an existential issue, it doesn’t get starker.
The logical objection is this: Illinois has had nuclear reactors for a long time, so their value has already been noted. But that doesn’t paint a complete picture. if favoring renewable power through subsidies and other incentives causes nuclear energy to become relatively unprofitable, then plants that close as a result will likely be replaced by natural gas works (because baseload energy, which most renewable sources cannot supply, remains necessary). That wrecks the state’s emissions targets and provides a value to nuclear energy retroactively. The argument is: it shouldn’t be retroactive – that’s too late. It’s valuable now.
Barrón makes exactly this point:
“All zero-carbon resources should be treated similarly,” Barrón said, “and a state like Illinois that has invested in nuclear technology should be recognized for that clean energy investment.”
It certainly should. She also notes nuclear energy’s superb performance during the polar vortex earlier this year – something we’ve beat the drum on several times. But the real interest here is that Exelon has put it on the line: Illinois has a lot of nuclear capacity (a plurality, if fact, generating 47 percent of the state’s electricity) and losing it would be a loss not only for the state, but for the nation – and depending on how grand you want to get, for the world.
You can get a PowerPoint presentation about nuclear energy in Illinois (prepared by the Illinois EPA) here. It was presented at the summit.