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Why the nuclear industry targets renewables instead of gas via Midwest Energy News

Cheap natural gas has upended the nation’s energy landscape and made aging nuclear power plants increasingly uncompetitive.

Yet the nuclear industry, which generates almost a fifth of the nation’s energy, has declared war not on gas but on wind and solar, which represent about 4 and 0.2 percent of our energy mix, respectively.

Nuclear generators have successfully fought against renewable and energy efficiency standards on the state level, and lobbied against tax incentives for wind and solar on the federal level. They’re in the process of securing changes in regional capacity markets that would benefit nuclear and harm solar and wind.

And as states develop their Clean Power Plans to fulfill the federal mandate to reduce carbon emissions, nuclear is often pitted against renewables.

In deregulated states like Illinois, Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania, nuclear generators have found it increasingly difficult to sell their power at a profit on open markets, because of competition primarily from gas but also from wind.

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Illinois: Ground zero

Nuclear energy provides almost half of Illinois’ electricity; wind and solar provide almost five percent and less than a tenth of a percent, respectively.

Chicago-based Exelon, the country’s largest nuclear generator, has said that three of its six Illinois plants could close if state lawmakers don’t provide “market-based solutions” to help them become more profitable. A diverse group of business and clean energy interests are campaigning against an Exelon “bailout,” as critics call it, pegged at $580 million, saying citizens have already subsidized the company more than enough.

Exelon’s fortunes have plummeted in recent years, though a report recently released by Illinois state agencies indicated the company is exaggerating the crisis facing its Illinois plants.

As part of the report, required by a 2014 law pushed by Exelon, Illinois officials considered the possibility of a low-carbon energy standard similar to the state’s renewable standard. If nuclear energy were allowed to fulfill state clean energy goals, advocates fear the nuclear plants would overwhelm the program and leave little or no incentive for new renewable energy.

Exelon also pressured state legislators last spring to halt a planned “fix” of the state’s renewable energy standard, which would have facilitated the development of more wind and solar power. New wind development in Illinois has stalled because of the problems with the standard. Legislation to fix it will likely be introduced again this spring, with Exelon again weighing in and trying to tie any changes to support for its nuclear plants.

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