Plant closing would hurt area economy


BYRON – If the Byron Generating Station does close in September 2021, it will mean more than a loss of about 700 jobs.

It will also mean the loss of millions of dollars in taxes locally.

Exelon Generation announced on Aug. 27 that it intends to retire its Byron Generating Station and Dresden Generating Station in fall 2021. Byron will close in September 2021.

Paul Dempsey, Communications Manager of the Byron station, said that the station’s 2017 tax bill was more than $38 million. The taxes went to a variety of taxing bodies, including the Byron School District, Ogle County and the Byron Museum and Library District.

There are also the charitable donations giving by the station, which Dempsey said amount to about $250,000. Donations have gone to Rock River Center in Oregon, Pinecrest Community in Mount Morris, Hub City Senior Center and many others.

In July, the station donated $9,000 to libraries in Ogle County. And in June it donated $35,000 to local food banks.

Sarah Downs, executive director of the Byron Chamber of Commerce, said that the community has been well aware that Exelon has been sounding the alarm for years that its zero-carbon Byron and Dresden plants are uneconomic to operate and would likely shut down early to prevent further financial losses.

“We need Byron Station in our community,” she said. “It provides 700 good-paying jobs, over $38 million in taxes, and supports our local schools, fire departments, forest preserves, and park districts. It’s a key source of business for our local retailers and restaurants. It also provides clean, carbon-free energy to 2.3 million homes and businesses in our area.

“We implore state leaders to take action to save Byron Station from early retirement next year.”

The Byron Forest Preserve District received $2.3 million in tax money from the Byron Station last year.

“The Exelon Generation Byron Station is obviously an important part of the greater Byron/Oregon community,” said Todd Tucker, Executive Director of the Forest Preserve District. “The Byron Forest Preserve District alone receives nearly 75 cents of every property tax operating dollar from the Byron Nuclear Plant.”

Tucker pointed out that the money the district has received over the past 35 years has made it possible for it to preserve more than 2,300 acres of natural land for nine preserves, develop the PrairieView Golf Club, Jarrett Prairie Center, Keller Education Center and our the PrairieFire Golf facility.

“Their support has made it possible each year to offer education programs and recreation opportunities for thousands of school aged children, individuals and families in the Rockford Region and beyond,” Tucker said. “We currently employ 22 full time staff who operate top-notch facilities thanks to this tax support.”

And while the news of the proposed closure is clearly causing concern in the region, Tucker said now is not the time to panic.

“We are hopeful that there is still time for our legislators in Springfield to work out some sort of agreement with Exelon to lessen the impact both for our organization and the entire Northern Illinois Region,” he said.

The Oregon Park District received $2.7 million in taxes in 2019, with 78 percent of that coming from taxes paid by Exelon. Park District Executive Director Erin Folk said the plant closure will significantly impact the people employed by the Oregon Park District, the residents it serves and the services it provides. 

 “The District has made many decisions over the past 10 years in preparation for a potential reduction in taxes, but the plant closure will be devastating to our District, the other taxing bodies and Ogle County,” she said. “We are hopeful the State of Illinois will address potential legislative needs to aid in keeping the plant open. Many decisions will need to be made over the course of the coming months and we will continue to act in the best interest of the District as we navigate through this difficult time.”

And many of the 700 employees at the plant live in and pay taxes in the county. Dempsey said as of February 2019, 130 employees lived in Byron, 55 in Oregon, 36 in Stillman and at least 10 each in Davis Junction, Mount Morris and Rochelle. The others live in cities including Rockford and Dixon.

"No words can describe the loss that would be deeply felt if the decision to shut down the Byron Nuclear plant can't be changed,” said Oregon Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Liz Vos. “Exelon consistently gives back to our communities. So many communities are literally and figuratively powered by this company."