States which want to offer subsidies for nuclear power generators got a big boost this week when the U.S. Supreme decided not to hear challenges to zero emissions credits (ZEC) in New York and Illinois.
The New York Public Service Commission enacted the ZECs, seen as a way by some to protect economically uncompetitive nuclear power plants, several years ago. Groups challenged the program in federal court beginning in 2016.
During the same year, Illinois state legislatures approved the Future Energy Jobs Bill to incentivize utilities for generating carbon-free power from nuclear plants. Exelon Corp. and its utility Commonwealth Edison were expected to benefit from an annual $235 million credit.
Exelon responded to the Supreme Court decision rejecting appeals against the ZEC programs in both states. Exelon has nuclear power plants in New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Maryland.
“Today our nation’s highest court let stand two appellate court decisions affirming that states have a right to protect their citizens by favoring clean energy – including nuclear – over pollution-emitting energy from coal, oil and natural gas power plants,” reads the company statement. “This decision is a win for consumers, policymakers and regulators in states that choose to support the continued operation of nuclear plants as part of efforts to reduce carbon emissions and address the effects of climate change.”
The Trump Administration’s Department of Energy in 2017 sought for Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rulemaking that could reward coal and nuclear power for its fuel security and resiliency qualities. FERC declined to do so, saying that the markets were operating efficiently.
Lately, however, FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee has expressed worry over the pace of coal and nuclear plant retirements. He said he might have to consider market interference depending on the state of the generation mix.
Nuclear power accounts for close to 20 percent of the U.S. generation mix. Uncompetitive economics, pushed by the falling price of renewable sources, public demand for cleaner energy and low-cost natural gas, are driving many utilities to close those aging plants.
Only one new nuclear power project-the $25 billion Vogtle Units 3 and 4 in Georgia-is currently under construction. More than a dozen plants have marked for retirement in just the last few years.
Ohio leaders also have considered a nuclear plant bailout.