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Exelon Nuclear Plant in Cordova, Illinois

Exelon's Quad-City Generating Station.


That's the best way to describe our support for legislation championed by electric company Exelon, which, it says, is the only way to save Quad-Cities Generating Station and its 800 jobs.

Exelon officials correctly note the deck is stacked against them. Public subsidies for solar and wind bolster less-than-reliable methods that only work when the wind whips up or the sun shines. Exelon Senior Vice President Tim Hanley was right when he lauded the importance of nuclear power plants in an era when zero-carbon emissions are top priority, during a recent interview with the Quad-City Times editorial board. Of course, the spent fuel is a problem that will outlive us all. 

And, Hanley stressed, this time was different when company CEO Chris Crane said that nuclear power stations in Clinton, Illinois, and Cordova are, again, on the chopping block without action in Springfield before the Tuesday, May 31, adjournment. This week's PJM auction could have provided a three-year reprieve for Quad-Cities, Hanley said, if it cleared Wednesday night's transmission provider's auction.

It didn't.

The future of the Cordova station, the largest taxpayer in Rock Island County and site of hundreds of high-paying jobs, hangs in the balance. But make no mistake, the massive overhaul Exelon is hoping to ram through the General Assembly is, at its core, a bailout.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan blasted Exelon's bill. The company, as a whole, posted $2 billion in profits last year. The cash-bleeding Cordova and Clinton facilities are just two of the company's six plants in Illinois. Lawmakers are keenly aware of the optics of bailing out a profitable company when Illinois can't even fund its schools and social services.

Cordova is in a Senate district now in GOP hands. Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner is waging a war on union power, and Democratic lawmakers are being asked to hike rates -- increases averaging 25 cents to $3 dollars a month, depending on whom you believe -- to save union jobs.

In addition, the plants would receive $2.6 billion in state subsidies over the next decade -- cash, under the current draft -- that the state couldn't claw back if the two facilities started making money. 

This isn't the first time Crane has threatened to shutter the two plants unless Springfield guarantees their profitability. But the "definitive" nature of the company's most recent announcement triggered federal Security Exchange Commission regulations, Exelon officials contend. 

Dave Lundy, a spokesman for Better Energy Solutions for Tomorrow Coalition, which vehemently opposes the bill, isn't convinced. Exelon can't be trusted this time around, either, he said. 

The doubts circulating through Springfield speak to Exelon's "credibility problem." The first legislative draft, for example, would have gutted funding for wind and solar, a simple "oversight" Exelon officials said.

It doesn't look good for Exelon's bill in the Senate, the kinder and gentler of Illinois' two legislative bodies. The political realities, as Tuesday's adjournment nears, can't be ignored.

We feel over a barrel, a sentiment no doubt shared with a slew of lawmakers whose districts rely on the high-paying jobs and local property taxes. Bailing out -- on the backs of rate and taxpayers, alike -- a profitable company reeks. It hits at the core of every one of our most populist ideals. Exelon, after all, was one of the nation's biggest proponents of deregulation in the 1990s. Now, with the rise of natural gas, it's coming back to bite the power producer. But, sometimes, ideals must die on the altar of pragmatism. The closure of the Cordova plant would devastate Rock Island County and its economy. 

We can support the Exelon bill on one condition: The company backs an amendment for a state claw-back of subsidies should the plants become profitable. Exelon must agree to provide detailed reports of each plant's operation for legislative scrutiny. 

If Exelon wants a bailout, it must assure taxpayers and ratepayers alike that the cash isn't just padding pockets on Wall Street.

Local editorials represent the opinion of the Quad-City Times editorial board, which consists of Publisher Deb Anselm, Executive Editor Autumn Phillips, Editorial Page Editor Jon Alexander, City Editor Dan Bowerman, Associate Editor Bill Wundram and community representative John Wetzel.