With very little time to spare, the Illinois Legislature passed a bill to save two nuclear plants, and in the process helped to secure Illinois’ environmental future and energy stability.

IBEW members attended the signing of the Future Energy Jobs Act on Dec. 7, including Decatur, Ill., Local 146 Business Manager Josh Sapp, left, Springfield, Ill., Local 51 Business Representative Corey Stone, Local 51 Assistant Business Manager John Johnson, Local 51 Business Manager Matt Moore, Local 51 Assistant Nuclear Representative Bobby Dean and Local 51 Business Representative Karlene Knisley.

On Dec. 1, the House and Senate passed the Future Energy Jobs Bill, which provides a zero emissions credit to nuclear energy, leveling the playing field with renewables like wind and solar. The credits provide a value to nuclear that allows the plants to receive subsidies that ensure market competitiveness. Illinois gets almost half of its energy from nuclear, as well as 90 percent of its clean energy.

The plants, the Quad Cities Generating Station and Clinton Power Station, were scheduled for early retirement unless a legislative solution could be found. On Dec. 7, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the bill into law, keeping them open for the next 10 years. 

“It’s like Christmas,” said Springfield, Ill., Local 51 Business Manager Matt Moore. “We weren’t sure we’d get there until the 11th hour, but everyone got on board in the end.”

Local 51 represents close to 300 members at the Clinton station. Downers Grove, Ill., Local 15 represents 350 members at Quad Cities. Inside locals also get work during maintenance and refueling periods. Approximately 4,200 direct and secondary jobs were awaiting the legislative outcome, according to Exelon, owner of both the plants.

“It was a very unique day,” said Local 15 Assistant Business Manager Bill Phillips. “We don’t get those very often. We have a lot of very happy people.”   

Without this adjustment, Exelon was looking at a continued unprofitable streak. Company officials said they have lost $800 million over the past seven years from the Clinton and Quad Cities stations, despite being two of its best-performing plants.

“Our current energy policies don’t properly value the jobs, the reliability, the energy diversity and the carbon-free power that nuclear energy provides,” said AFL-CIO President Michael Carrigan at a rally to support the plants in May. Carrigan is also a member of Decatur, Ill., Local 146. 

Moore and Phillips both noted that other sections of the bill called for boosting renewable energy and encouraging more energy efficient homes, which could create jobs.

About 1,000 people attended the bill signing, Phillips said, who was in the audience with others from Local 15 and Local 51. They were joined by coalition partners from the labor, environmental, business and local communities.  

“It really was everyone working together,” Phillips said. “If the bill hadn’t passed, there would have been a huge impact on the community.”

Members of Local 15 and Local 51, along with the Illinois AFL-CIO and other groups, lobbied for the bill’s passage. The coalition included the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and the Illinois Retail Merchants Association.

Nearly $1.2 billion in economic activity would have been lost within four years if the plants closed.

“The schools and libraries put their futures on hold to see how this would roll out,” Phillips said. “They’re funded by taxes and a lot of it comes from these plants.”

U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, whose congressional District includes the Quad Cities, led a bipartisan effort to send a letter from the Illinois delegation to Rauner and the state Legislature, urging them to pass a bill to save the plants and value nuclear as a greenhouse gas-free energy source.

“By coming together to pass a compromise energy bill that will protect thousands of good-paying Illinois jobs, continue the production of non-carbon energy and help break our addiction to foreign fossil fuels, we’re building a better future for all of our families,” Bustos said in a press release.

The bill was modeled after a similar legislative fix in New York. The Empire State issued an order to provide credits to its nuclear plants for their clean energy production. Without the order, facilities there were also at risk of closure.

Nuclear is the most efficient and reliable baseload energy source that produces zero carbon emissions. Even during the polar vortex of 2014, nuclear operated at 95 percent capacity, according to Nuclear Matters.

“Nuclear stays secure and steady,” said Local 51 Assistant Business Manager John Johnson. “Wind and solar can be part of that – but only as long as the sun is shining and the wind is blowing.” 

Cover photo of Quad Cities nuclear station photo credit: Exelon.