Exelon chief: Wind subsidies could shut down nuclear plants

Exelon will likely try to quash AWEA’s push this year for a phase-out of the 2.2 cent per kilowatt-hour credit for wind power production. 

Exelon has ties to the White House, as one of its directors is a top fundraiser for and friend of President Obama. Former strategist David Axelrod also consulted for the utility, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who served as Obama's first chief of staff, helped create the firm through a merger in 2000 while working as an investment banker.

AWEA is looking to secure a five-year commitment on the subsidy from Congress beyond 2013. After that, the trade association says the domestic wind industry could survive on its own.

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The credit has the backing of most Democrats, and also some Republicans from breezy states.

But several GOP lawmakers and utilities, like Exelon, want to ensure that doesn’t happen.

Fiscal conservatives are concerned that changes to the credit approved in January will expand the subsidy, widening a federal revenue hole in the process. Beginning this year, wind projects that begin construction can receive the credit, compared with past years when they had to produce power by the annual deadline.

Republicans and conservative groups also have echoed some utilities — like Exelon — in saying the subsidy establishes “negative pricing” in some areas.

Crane explained the subsidy reduces the rate Exelon receives from nuclear generation by encouraging wind turbines to rotate when power demand is low. That means the utility sometimes pays customers to take its nuclear power in wind-heavy regions.

Rob Gramlich, AWEA's interim chief executive, told the Tribune that Exelon is merely "looking for a scapegoat" after power prices plummeted following the utility's "bet on the electricity spot market" with nuclear.

While Crane said that the credit is taking a bite out of Exelon’s nuclear business, he added the utility has no immediate plans to mothball plants.

"We continue to believe that our assets are some of the lowest-cost, most-dispatchable baseload assets and don't have any plans at this point of early shutdown on them," he told the Tribune.

— This story was updated at 11:44 a.m.