After the release of a report in November on radioactive leaks at Exelon plants in Illinois, including in Will and Grundy counties, Minooka Village Administrator Dan Duffy sent The Herald-News a letter to the editor in support of Exelon.
“Dresden Station and its employment opportunities and financial contributions help make Minooka a desirable community to live in,” the letter read in part. “We’re thankful for a long-standing friendship and partnership with Dresden Station.”
But a public records request under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that the letter was almost completely the prepared text that an Exelon representative emailed Duffy to send to The Herald-News.
“Could you cut and paste this text into an email to the Joliet Herald and send it this afternoon?” Exelon spokeswoman Sara Peters wrote.
Later Duffy wrote back to Peters with a simple reply: “Done.” The letter was published on The Herald-News website Nov. 26.
When asked about the email, he defended the action by reiterating the support expressed for Exelon in the letter and explained that it was not unusual for others to help him write letters to the editor.
“They do a lot of good for us,” Duffy said. “So I said ‘Why don’t we work on a letter to the editor together?’ ”
When asked for specifics on whether he approached Exelon about writing a letter, or vice versa, he said he did not remember. He also said that it was “no different” than when he has his secretary write a letter he sends to newspapers.
Duffy was not the only local official who wrote a letter to the editor supporting Exelon. Braidwood Mayor Jim Vehrs had a letter published Nov. 27 in the State Journal-Register in Springfield.
Vehrs said he drafted the letter and that 80 percent of the words in the letter are his, but he did meet with Exelon before submitting it to gather some facts to include in it.
“I went down there to get more information, more facts,” Vehrs said. “I don’t have people write letters.”
Matt Kasper, the research director at the Energy and Policy Institute, initially reported on the emails. A records request he did on communications between the city of Braidwood and Exelon did not yield evidence that contradicts what Vehrs said, but Kasper did find a strikingly similar letter from another Illinois mayor.
James Boone, the village president of Cordova, in the northwestern part of the state, wrote a letter published Nov. 28.
“Maybe this letter was so well [written] that they put it out there,” Vehrs said. “I don’t have [any] concern over it.”
When asked about the circumstances of the letters to the editor, Exelon responded with a statement, but did not specifically speak to who wrote the letters. It instead criticized the initial report from the Better Government Association.
“Exelon prides itself on being a good neighbor everywhere we do business, and communities value Exelon Generation’s nuclear energy facilities because of the many economic, environmental and philanthropic benefits they provide,” the statement read. “When local leaders learned about the BGA’s misleading and inaccurate story, several expressed interest in responding, and we were pleased to provide information as needed to support their efforts.”
So with such high praise from local officials, just how much do local economies benefit from the Exelon plants operating nearby?
Vehrs said, in Braidwood alone, the Braidwood plant in nearby Braceville produced about $26.5 million in tax revenue in 2016 for local taxing bodies. The local school district received about $16 million of that and the local fire district got about $1.4 million.
Of the plant’s 864 employees, the majority of them live in Grundy and Will counties, according to Exelon’s website. The plant also supports nearly 5,000 direct and secondary jobs in Illinois.
Exelon also puts on an annual event called Fishing for a Cure in which it raises money through a fishing tournament to donate to a local charity. Since 2002, Exelon’s Braidwood station has donated about $400,000 to local organizations and charities.
There also are indirect benefits to Exelon being near Braidwood, Vehrs said. When the company has turnaround, during which about 800 extra employees are brought in to help refuel the plant, sales tax revenue grew more than 2 percent.
At the Dresden Generating Station near Morris, most of the about 850 employees at that plant live in Will and Grundy counties. Exelon’s website says the Dresden site supports nearly 4,000 direct and secondary jobs in Illinois and contributes nearly $9 billion annually to the state’s economy.