April 12, 2021

Sue Rezin: Texas power outages should serve as a reminder of the importance of nuclear energy

Recently, millions of our fellow Americans in Texas were left without electricity due to the extreme winter weather brought on by a polar vortex that swept across much of the United States.

These hazardous weather conditions crippled a vast majority of Texas’ power grid. It froze many of the state’s wind turbines, limited access to their abundance of natural gas, and forced the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) to implement a rolling blackout across the state in the hopes to prevent even more outages as the Council worked to restore power for those without it.

Another problem that resulted from the extreme weather that should not be overlooked is the shocking spot price of wholesale electricity. The winter storm and the state’s compromised power grid caused spot electric prices to skyrocket by as much as 10,000 percent. Real-time wholesale market prices on the power grid operated by the ERCOT reached more than $9,000 per megawatt hour. According to ERCOT data, those prices were less than $50 per megawatt an hour before the storm hit the state.

In Illinois, we too experienced extreme weather conditions over the same time period. In fact, the Governor issued a disaster proclamation for all of Illinois, and there were reports that parts of Illinois received more than 18 inches of snow. Yet, the state did not have issues with our power grid even close to what happened in Texas.

This success can be contributed to our state’s deep mix of electric power, which has given our state one of the most reliable power systems in the world. Another big thanks can be given to our state’s use of reliable and sustainable nuclear energy. Moreover, almost half of Illinois’ electricity is produced by our nuclear power plants, which have only strengthened our state’s power grid resiliency.

Illinois has six nuclear power plants that produce clean, carbon-free energy 24/7, which is considered one of the most reliable forms of power generation, especially during extreme weather conditions like the ones we are experiencing. While the temperatures dropped across the United States, Illinois’ six nuclear generating stations continued to run at nearly 100 percent output levels. This provided 11 million Illinois homes and businesses with power to keep themselves safe and warm.

Despite the reliability and necessity of our nuclear energy, there are those who wish to dismantle our deep mix of electric power and focus solely on renewable energy sources such as wind and solar to reach Governor Pritzker’s ambitious goal of transitioning the state’s energy portfolio to 100 percent clean, carbon-free energy by 2050.

What these individuals do not take into account is the fact that nearly 90 percent of our state’s current carbon-free energy comes from our nuclear plants. If we were to let our nuclear power plants be decommissioned, we would be losing nearly half of our state’s total electric power and almost all of our current carbon-free energy. There is no realistic path to reach 100 percent carbon-free energy by 2050 without the sound and reliable energy that is produced by our nuclear power stations.

That is why this spring session, the Illinois Legislature must work on legislation that will ensure that all of our nuclear plants remain operational and continue to provide Illinois citizens with sustainable carbon-free power.

Sue Rezin is the minority spokesperson on the Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee, member of the National Conference of State Legislatures’ Task Force on Energy Supply and state senator whose legislative district includes the Braidwood, Dresden and La Salle Generating Stations.