Court upholds Illinois nuclear power subsidy law

By: Cole Lauterbach |

A federal appellate court ruling upheld Illinois’ law directing hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies to nuclear plants and other green energy incentives.

The ruling from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals says that Illinois’ Future Energy Jobs Act, a 2016 law providing Zero Emissions Credits to Exelon, the owner of several nuclear plants in the state, doesn’t unfairly manipulate the multi-state energy market that establishes rates.

The challenge was brought by the Electric Power Supply Association, a trade group for power plant owners that includes Dynegy, which has since been acquired by Vistra Energy. Vistra owns coal-fired plants in Illinois. Vistra wasn’t immediately available to respond to the ruling or say whether it will appeal the decision.

In Vistra’s lawsuit, the company claimed the subsidies allowed Exelon to submit unfairly low rates in the wholesale auction.

The panel ruled that “the Commerce Clause does not cut the states off from legislating on all subjects relating to the health, life, and safety of their citizens…”

Exelon released a statement Friday saying the company was “pleased to see that the Seventh Circuit Court affirmed dismissal of the ZEC complaint, thus supporting the continued operation of Illinois’ ZEC program and the clean, resilient and affordable electricity nuclear power provides.”

State Rep. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, who has two nuclear plants in her district, said it was good for clean and renewable energy.

“Many states are trying to figure out what to do to keep the nuclear plants online,” she said. “This opinion that just came out sounds like a step in the right direction.”

Both sides had said Illinois jobs were on the line as they looked to influence lawmakers.

Exelon warned in 2016 that it would likely have to close two Illinois plants, one near Clinton and another near the Quad Cities, and cut 1,500 jobs if the subsidies weren’t signed into law.

Dynegy said its Illinois-based plants face an uncertain future if the courts upheld the FEJA. This would mean 1,000 jobs in southern Illinois, an area facing a dearth of higher-paying jobs.

The Future Energy Jobs Act will charge utility customers an average of $2 per month over the next decade, sending $236 million to Exelon annually. In turn for the credits, ComEd, Exelon’s energy retailer, would invest in green jobs training and provide discounts to needy ratepayers.

Court upholds Illinois nuclear power subsidy law