Sixty years ago, Dresden Station Unit 1 came online and it forever cemented Grundy County as an “energy county” with all the benefits – and sometimes downsides – that affords. Since then, two additional nuclear reactor units began and the first was retired. Around the region, more energy assets emerged, including Collins Station, natural gas plants, biofuels, natural gas fractionation, wind and now solar power.
Earlier this year, Exelon announced that Dresden and Byron stations would close in November 2021, unless legislative changes were enacted to compensate the facilities for producing carbon-free energy. The changing energy markets have posed a significant challenge to the long-term viability of Dresden Station and other Illinois nuclear plants. The low price of natural gas, recent Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rulings, and the proliferation of renewable wind and solar all have played a role in stressing Illinois’ nuclear assets. It is difficult to see what the future holds, but the importance of Dresden Station to the local economy is crystal clear.
A community coalition made up of Grundy Economic Development Council, Grundy County Chamber of Commerce, Coal City taxing districts and business leaders has mobilized to save Dresden Station. The recent petition has garnered nearly 9,000 signatures, hundreds of followers on the Save Dresden Facebook page, and a groundswell of support to keep these important jobs in our community. In addition, consultants and professional advisers have been hired to navigate the legislative process and, if needed, protect our community in the event of a plant closure.
The GEDC and the Chamber 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. The results demonstrate that a plant closure would have devastating impact on our local economy from lost jobs, reduced spending at our local businesses and a sharp reduction in revenue for local districts. But make no mistake, this is not just a Coal City/Diamond or Grundy County issue, the impact is felt across multiple counties.
What can we do to save Dresden? First and foremost, the community needs to get involved in the state legislative process. Our local legislators, Sens. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, and Patrick Joyce, D-Essex, and Rep. David Welter, R-Morris, all are great supporters of Dresden and nuclear power. But they need our help to reach out to other statewide officials that may not understand the importance of these jobs and impact to local communities. On the Save Dresden website, savedresden.com, there are names and numbers listed of members of the energy committees in the House and Senate. Please call those members and tell them your story and why Dresden Station is important. The future of Dresden Station will be decided in the coming months, and your voices need to be heard.
As the tireless work to keep the plant open continues, it is prudent to have a plan B, should the plant close in the coming year. A nuclear plant closure presents unique challenges that are not present when dealing with other closures. The Nuclear Decommissioning Collaborative recently published a study funded by the U.S. Economic Development Administration. It detailed five challenges that communities face when a nuclear plant closes: limited resources for economic recovery efforts, steep learning curve for complex decommissioning process, socioeconomic impacts, long term presence of on-site nuclear fuel and the lack of a coordinated federal framework as it relates to the community impact. The community coalition is working with Exelon, community officials and others to address ways to mitigate the negative impacts and, more importantly, put in place tools to recover from a nuclear plant closure.
Keeping Dresden Station open is priority No. 1. Dresden Station employees are our neighbors, friends, community leaders, coaches and, simply put, part of the fabric of Grundy County. The GEDC, Chamber and local leaders will be working hard in the months to come to try and preserve these very important jobs. Please join our efforts and visit savedresden.com to sign the petition and get involved.
• Nancy Norton is president and CEO of the Grundy Ecomonic Development Council.