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Coalition forms to save struggling TMICounty, municipal officials among those stepping forward

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Dauphin County Commissioner Mike Pries speaks about a new coalition dedicated to saving Three Mile Island Generating plant. Listening at left is York Mayor Kim Bracey.
Dauphin County Commissioner Mike Pries speaks about a new coalition dedicated to saving Three Mile Island Generating plant. Listening at left is York Mayor Kim Bracey. - (Photo / )

County, local and business leaders from across the midstate have launched a coalition to fight for Three Mile Island's future.

Operator Exelon Corp. has said it could close the money-losing nuclear plant in 2019, unless state officials enact legislation favorable to the struggling nuclear industry.

Known as Clean Jobs for Pennsylvania, the new coalition is echoing that appeal to Harrisburg.

TMI's annual payroll is about $60 million, and its workers come from Dauphin, Lancaster, York and surrounding counties.

"The benefit that these facilities have is tremendous, and policymakers must act to avoid an increase in carbon emissions and air pollution, higher electric rates, a less reliable electric grid, thousands of lost jobs and millions of dollars in lost economic activity for the commonwealth," Dauphin County Commissioner Mike Pries, who serves as coalition co-chairman, said Tuesday.

Pries made the remarks during a press conference at a Londonderry Township golf course overlooking the 43-year-old nuclear power plant.

Legislators in Exelon's home state of Illinois have approved a "zero-emissions credits" program, which effectively provides subsidies to nuclear plants as one part of a plan to reward generation facilities that do not create fossil fuel emissions.

New York state also has passed pro-nuclear legislation, but so far in Pennsylvania, there has been no formal movement in that direction.

On the contrary, a group known as the Citizens Against Nuclear Bailouts Coalition, which includes other players in the energy industry, already is campaigning against such a move.

Worried about the future of TMI's 675 jobs — as well as 1,500 more workers brought in when the plant re-fuels every other year — CleanJobs for Pennsylvania is taking the opposite tack.

Pries made it clear he doesn't like the word "bailout."

"It's not a word I've used, and I don't think it's appropriate," he said.

Instead, Pries and others argue that supporting TMI and the nuclear industry will help level the playing field as it looks to compete against cheaper natural gas and other non-fossil sources which do receive government support.

But Londonderry Township Manager Steve Letavic, who spoke with the Business Journal after the press conference, also wonders why a business that means so much to his community isn't worthy of support when so many other sectors receive it.

"How many businesses do we subsidize? We've been subsidizing farmers for how many years?" Letavic said.

He has suggested that the loss of TMI would cost the township at least $100,000, which would be a substantial hit to its $2 million budget.

Moreover, other entities, including the Lower Dauphin School District, also would take a hit, Letavic said, and it's likely some of that loss would then get passed back to township residents in the form of higher school taxes.

And that's not counting the loss to individual workers and families.

Joe Gusler, president of the Central Pennsylvania Building and Construction Trades Council and co-chair of the coalition, said his organization represents 5,700 workers, hundreds of whom work at TMI.

"Plant employees are a vital part of our communities," Gusler said.

"Once they're gone, those jobs are not coming back," he said.

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Roger DuPuis

Roger DuPuis

Roger DuPuis covers Cumberland County, health care, transportation, distribution, energy and environment. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at rdupuis@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @rogerdupuis2.

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