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Exelon may shut down nuclear plants in profit struggle

By Julie Wernau

Tribune staff reporter

1:06 PM EST, February 6, 2014

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Chicago-based Exelon Corp. said Thursday on a conference call following its quarterly earnings results that it will shut down nuclear plants to save money if it doesn't see a path to steady profits this year.

The company’s large fleet of nuclear plants have struggled to remain profitable as they attempt to compete with subsidized renewable generation and stubbornly low natural gas prices, which have driven down the price Exelon receives for power.

Exelon owns 10 nuclear power plants, six of which are in Illinois. Analysts have signaled that if power prices don’t recover its Clinton and Quad Cities generating stations are among the potential closures.

In the meantime, the company said, it is looking for ways to drive up earnings. Exelon said it wants the operator of the electric grid to reward steady so-called baseload power generators like Exelon over that of wind and solar generators whose power is intermittent. At the same time, the company said it continues to lobby for energy policies that would end the subsidization of renewables and help drive more closures at coal-fired power plants.

Exelon continues to believe that 52 gigawatts of coal plants will retire in the power markets it sells into before 2016, and has said investors who hold onto the stock will be rewarded when that market tightening drives up power prices for Exelon.

Profit at Chicago-based Exelon Corp. rose 31 percent in the fourth quarter to $495 million, or 58 cents per share from $378 million or 44 cents per share in the fourth quarter of 2012.

The company said it continues to be pummeled by lower power prices but that those losses were offset by higher capacity prices (a kind of reservation fee for power paid to Exelon) and higher revenue from its three utilities, including Chicago-based Commonwealth Edison Co. This year’s fourth quarter earnings also saw a bump over last year’s fourth quarter, which was hurt by Superstorm Sandy.

The nation's largest owner of nuclear plants had sales of $6.18 billion, a slight decrease from $6.25 billion in the same quarter last year.

For the full year, Exelon's revenue was up at $24.9 billion versus $23.5 billion in 2013 and net income grew to $1.72 billion in 2013 from $1.16 billion in 2012 or $2 per share versus $1.42 per share.

jwernau@tribune.com | Twitter @littlewern
 

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