The Chicago area has relied heavily on nuclear power for its electricity for decades, but eventually those plants’ useful lives will end. Billions will be needed to clean them up and return that land to productive use. Will the money be there?
Chicago-based Exelon, the nation’s largest nuclear generator and the owner of six Illinois stations, has been socking away just a little over $20 million annually in recent years to clean up all of its U.S. nukes.
At $13.3 billion at the end of 2017, Exelon’s nuke-cleanup funds are collectively short by nearly $6 billion what they will eventually need under reasonable current estimates, which are only likely to rise, according to a recent report by San Francisco-based investment consultant Callan Associates.
On average, Exelon’s nuke licenses don’t expire for 22 years, giving the company time to let investment returns help close the gap. But with a shortfall topping all other U.S. nuclear operators as of the end of 2016, Exelon’s slight annual contribution raises questions about whether it’s investing enough to ensure those plant sites are cleaned up in a timely manner after they close.
Of course, in Illinois at least, ratepayers are subsidizing Exelon’s nukes in other ways. The Future Energy Jobs Act, signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner in 2016, imposes a surcharge on electric bills throughout the state to funnel $235 million a year to Exelon, which had threatened otherwise to shutter two money-losing stations.
So, like a prudent parent saving for their kids’ college, will Exelon start salting more away? Doesn’t sound like it.