Illinois relies on nuclear energy for over half of its electricity production. The plants producing that power are mostly old and scheduled to be mothballed by 2050.
But Illinois nevertheless maintains a decades-long, total moratorium on new nuclear power plant construction.
Illinois’ shortsightedness is exceeded by its hubris. Federal government safety standards for construction and operation of nuclear plants is extraordinarily strict.
How do Illinois politicians get off thinking they know better and should override those standards with their own, total moratorium?
The latest warning about Illinois’ electrical power capacity problems came last month, this time for Northern Illinois. As Crain’s reported, the power grid operator serving Northern Illinois and areas to the east warned of potential electricity shortages over the coming seven years, thanks partly state policies like Illinois’ clean-energy law that is forcing power plants to close. PJM Interconnection, the grid operator, “explicitly cites Illinois’ Climate & Equitable Jobs Act, or CEJA, enacted in 2021, as a contributor to the issue,” wrote Crain’s.
That report came on top of a warning last year from the grid operator for Southern and Central Illinois, MISO, which said those areas already are at “high risk” for brownouts due to capacity shortfalls. Electricity costs have already spiked 50% to 200% in much of that area.
Meanwhile, much of the world is turning towards nuclear as a clean, reliable source of energy, recognizing that new plants are far safer than in years past. The days of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island are gone. Even Japan, which suffered the most recent nuclear accident twelve years ago, is returning to nuclear power. Other nations include Germany, France, the United Kingdom, India and, of course, China.
Poland is a particularly interesting example, openly welcoming nuclear energy innovation, as reported by RealClear last week. It just signed a nuclear plant construction contract with Westinghouse, a leader worldwide in nuclear plant construction. That’s an American company. Its plants are apparently good enough for the rest of the world but not Illinois.
Even within the U.S. Illinois is falling behind. Tennessee last week started up the first new nuke in America since 2016 and is striving to become the nation’s leader on nuclear innovation. Indiana is poised to expand its size limitation on new nuclear plant construction.
One particularly interesting possibility for Illinois might be retrofitting old fossil fuel plants, which is discussed here. Illinois has a number of coal-fired plants closing down or scheduled to close down, though I have never seen discussion of whether a nuclear retrofit is feasible for Illinois plants.
Nuclear energy has its skeptics, particularly on cost issues, as expressed here, for example. But ending Illinois’ moratorium would not be a judgement on those or any other issues. The point of lifting the ban would be only to allow the competition and debate to begin for the safest, cleanest and most reliable energy source available. On its current path, Illinois is betting almost entirely on wind and solar.
CEJA, Illinois’ greenest-in-the-nation green energy bill, passed in 2021, dealt with nuclear deceptively. On its surface, the bill accepts nuclear power in its goal of zero emissions by 2050. But the moratorium is in separate, older legislation left in place by CEJA. And since the existing nukes will be out of operation by then, nuclear energy is slated to end.
At least some members of both parties have seen the wisdom of ending the moratorium. In the House, Rep. Mark Walker (D-Arlington Heights) last year sponsored a bill to loosen the ban, though it has yet to be acted on. In the Senate, Sen. Sue Rezin (R- Morris) has sponsored legislation for several years trying to end the ban, but she has been ignored. She recently wrote in Crain’s about the need to renew that effort.
Let’s hope their voices are heard.
And props to Crain’s for their regular coverage of growing concerns about CEJA and Illinois’ electricity issues, which has been frank – not presented through green tinted glasses.
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