By Michael Mariotte

Washington DC residents rally outside the District Building September 17, 2015 against Exelon’s proposed takeover of Pepco. Photo by Tim Judson

When a nuclear power utility says one of its reactors is economically troubled and it may close early, should you believe it? For that matter, when a nuclear power utility says anything at all, should you believe it?

Since the answer to the second question is almost always no, the answer to the first is self-evident.

The reality is that when a nuclear utility–especially one like Exelon, Entergy or FirstEnergy, all of which have an ideological pro-nuclear fixation–says that it may close one or more of its reactors early, what it really means is that it wants a taxpayer and/or ratepayer bailout to make up for its losses. Only when that approach fails will it actually think about cutting its losses by closing a reactor.

Digressing only slightly for just a moment, when a nuclear utility like Exelon says it will bring benefits to a city or region if only that city or region will allow it to operate there, what it really means is that it will bring rate hikes and stymie clean energy if that city or region is foolish enough to allow it to come in.

The photo above from this morning’s rally outside Washington DC’s District Building shows DC residents that have caught on to Exelon, and don’t believe it for a second. The rally was held in support of the recent DC Public Service Commission decision denying the proposed takeover of local utility Pepco by Exelon, and to put pressure on the PSC and Mayor Bowser to reject a settlement offer Exelon reportedly has brought to the mayor. News of a $170+ million rate hike proposed this week by Exelon subsidiary Philadelphia Electric (perhaps to help bail out Exelon’s struggling Three Mile Island reactor?) for that region don’t provide much confidence in the company’s assurances that it wouldn’t raise rates in D.C.

If approved–which doesn’t seem likely, the Pepco takeover would go a long way toward salvaging Exelon’s nuclear fleet. The steady money coming in from Pepco ratepayers, who aren’t burdened with failing reactors, would have eased tension around Exelon’s Chicago-area headquarters as the company desperately seeks more money from every venue imaginable. Though maybe Exelon, instead of seeing itself as primarily an electricity generating company, now sees itself as sort of an industrial-scale pickpocket. Rather than focusing on providing a product (electricity) or service (electricity distribution) in return for payment, Exelon seems to spend its efforts trying to raise money directly: from state legislatures, from regulators, from federal officials, from anyone who might listen. They do so not with the promise of providing something of value in return, but with the threat of taking away something (jobs, taxes, power) those entities might want. Yes, a lot like the kid from school who threatens to take away the only bat and ball, so that no one can play, if he doesn’t get to be the pitcher.

That understanding goes a …read more

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