Green energy – where does nuclear fit in?


BYRON – When people talk about renewable – or green – energy, wind and solar top the list.

Solar has been a very popular, and controversial, topic of conversation in Ogle County for the past year as farms and other land owners look to convert acreage into solar fields.

But there is a clean energy that is already in Ogle County and producing energy around the clock, and that is nuclear energy.

“We definitely call it clean air energy, because it’s carbon free,” said Paul Dempsey, communications manager of the Exelon’s Byron generating station.

Nuclear power may be forgotten by some, but it generates about half of the power in the state. And Dempsey said 92 percent of the carbon free energy comes from nuclear plants.

Capacity is another place where nuclear energy does well. While solar plants run at 25 percent and wind at about 35 percent, nuclear is 92 percent.

But nuclear power in the state has been fighting policies that Dempsey said are not favorable to the industry. He said the natural gas supply is up, which means electricity prices are down.

That, of course, is not sustainable for the industry. In the company’s annual filing in February, Exelon told the Securities and Exchange Commission that there is economic stress on some of its plants, including the Byron station. The filing said the “increased signs of economic distress” on the plant could lead to it being closed by mid-2022.

This language is no different than that used by Exelon the past few years.

The hope is that there can be more nuclear-friendly policies in the future.

Dempsey said that they want to see renewable energy sources grow in the state. But there also needs to be room for nuclear. He pointed out that when the Polar Vortex dropped temperatures in the area to record lows, the nuclear plants were running hard to keep up with demand.

In Illinois, Exelon has six plants with 11 total reactors. The Byron plant, which has been operating since the 1980s, employs 800 people and pays $35 million in taxes to a variety of taxing districts in Ogle County. Those include area schools, libraries, the Byron Forest Preserve District and the Oregon Park District.