FILE - Byron, nuclear plant, Illinois, Exelon

In this March 16, 2011, file photo, steam escapes from Exelon Corp.'s nuclear plant in Byron, Ill.

(The Center Square) – The planned closure of two nuclear power plants in Illinois could require rural tax districts to make difficult choices when they cut millions of dollars in spending.

Nuclear power company Exelon announced last week it would decommission facilities in Byron and Dresden in late 2021. The company blamed the low cost of energy for the plants’ early closures, rather than a patronage scandal in Springfield. 

Nuclear power plants generate more than electricity. They are a source of tens of millions of dollars in property tax revenue for local governments that take advantage of their profitability to spend much more than similar areas. 

“They contribute about $350 million to the [gross domestic product] to Grundy County, more than 11.5 percent,” said Nancy Norton, president of the Grundy County Economic Development Council. 

The Dresden facility is in Grundy County. For the rural 953-acre plot, Exelon paid $24.5 million in taxes in 2019. Assessed at $546 million, Exelon’s Byron facility was charged $36.5 million in property taxes in 2017. That was a higher bill than all but 20 properties in the nation, all of which are in New York. 

In nearly every case, school districts located near one of Exelon’s six nuclear generation facilities spend more per student than nearby districts. 

Norton said Dresden’s property tax bill represents half of the Coal City School District’s $26 million budget. In Byron’s case, $18.6 million goes to District 226, which has an annual $30 million budget that much larger than neighboring districts. Oregon District 220, for instance, has an annual budget of $15 million. It served 53 fewer students than the Byron district in 2018.

Exelon said it pays nearly $63 million in taxes each year for the two plants slated to close.

Staff Reporter

Cole Lauterbach reports on Illinois and Arizona government and statewide issues for The Center Square. He has produced radio shows for stations in Central Illinois and created award-winning programs for Comcast SportsNet Chicago.