The Grundy County Board is expected to sign off this week on a non-binding resolution to support the preservation of nuclear energy in the state of Illinois.
Nancy Norton, President & CEO of Grundy County Economic Development, explained the issue last week to members of the Grundy County Elections/Tax/Tech Committee.
Norton said changing energy markets have posed a significant challenge for nuclear power plants in Illinois. But, she said, Exelon's 60-year-old Dresden Station in Morris, as well as Exelon plants in Braidwood and LaSalle, play a significant role in the local economies.
Recently the Grundy Economic Development Council and the Grundy County Chamber of Commerce commissioned Northern Illinois University to study the impact of Dresden Station on the region and to analyze the potential impact should the plant ever close.
Norton said the results of that study show that a closure would affect communities and impact jobs throughout the county, as well as affect salaries, the Grundy County GDP, and more.
"There have been ... some concerns about the long term viability of the nuclear stations, Dresden in particular," Norton said. "We have started the Nuclear Community Coalition. We're starting to reach out to the other five communities, there are six communities with stations, and talk about how we can be supportive of the legislation ... but also of safeguards."
Norton said that while Dresden employs around 800 people, there is a multiplier effect to the plant's operation. That means the very existence of Dresden Station creates or affects other jobs, such as suppliers, vendors, contractors, maintenance, retail, hospitals and medical offices, restaurants, and even real estate.
The total impact, Norton said, is that Dresden directly or indirectly impacts more than 1,600 jobs in Grundy County, almost 7% of the labor force.
"If that plant were to ever shut down, that would triple our unemployment rate," Norton said. "Right now we have 867 people on the unemployment rolls. We'd add another 1,600 or 1,700."
Norton also said that of Grundy County's $3.1 billion GDP, 9% up to 12% is directly or indirectly related to Dresden.The power plant also supports a payroll in Grundy County of $894 million annually, roughly 15% of overall payrolls in the county.
"That just reflects what head of household, quality jobs these are," she said. "This is a regional issue."
Norton added that more than 100 employees from Dresden live in Morris, while others live throughout the region in cities like Minooka, Channahon, Coal City, and Diamond.
When all three regional power plants are considered, even more Exelon workers are living in the area, their impacts felt throughout Grundy, Will, LaSalle, and other counties.
"It goes all the way down the I-55 and I-80 corridor," Norton said. "For example, we know there are about almost 1,200 Exelon employees who live in Grundy County. Not Dresden, Exelon employees ... the numbers get really big really quickly and how it reverberates down into our communities. Regional wise, it's really important."
The resolution that will go before the board will include language supportive of nuclear plants, but also what Norton called "safeguard language."
"We are asking our legislators that, should a nuclear plant ever close down in Illinois, anywhere, that there be some community safeguards in any legislation that might be included," Norton said. "The first is some level of consistent and sufficient funding for emergency management and first responders. It came to my attention the other day ... that all of the air sirens are owned by Exelon ... There's a lot of integrated, first responding, emergency communications that are out there that I don't think we've even gotten our arms around."
Norton said a second pillar of the resolution would support an economic recovery fund for job retraining and an overall economic plan to help areas get back on their feet should any nuclear host committee lose its plant.
The resolution would also seek support of a step down of property taxes, as well as the creation of a community advisory panel to keep residents advised on the decommissioning of a plant and future use for the hundreds of acres that each plant represents.
Norton added that a second study has recently been completed on the impacts of closing Braidwood Station or LaSalle.
"This can't just a Grundy County initiative. This has to be a state wide initiative," she said.
The resolution passed through the committee unanimously. It will come before the full Grundy County Board on Tuesday for approval.