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Reduced nuclear output at some Illinois plants

Exelon, one of the largest utility providers in the country, will be reducing the amount of energy it provides from some of its Illinois nuclear power plants. That concerns David Kolata, executive director of The Citizen Utility Board. He worries the company is reducing supply, in order to increase the price of electricity. He says that kind of market manipulation, “opens up a whole hornet nest of issues.”

“What we don’t want to happen from a consumers’ point of view is the worst of all possible worlds, where you get markets when they lead to higher prices, and no markets when they lead to lower prices,” said Kolata.

Exelon says sometimes electricity prices drop so low, it actually cost the company money to produce energy. Those are the times it would take energy off-line. Exelon says they are working with PJM, the company that oversees energy markets, to get advanced notice of when it looks like the price of energy will drop. The company says that is well within guidelines against market manipulation.

The reason for the very low energy prices is also under debate. Exelon blames wind subsidies, which they say makes it impossible for other forms of energy to compete.

Kolata says that claim is overblown. He says the low price of natural gas, a result of fracking, might have more to do with the price drop. He also says that the demand for electricity has dropped, which he attributes both to the recession and more energy efficient products.

Nuclear energy currently  makes up about half of the energy used in Illinois. Kolata says as we move towards more renewable energy resources and smart grid technology, that the market will reward forms of energy that can quickly respond to demand. Nuclear, which generally runs 24/7 and needs notice to ramp up and down, could struggle. Exelon says as long as patterns are predictable, they will remain competitive.

Shannon Heffernan is a reporter for WBEZ. Follow her at @shannon_h

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