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Rescue plans floated for TMI, other Pa. nuclear plants

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Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Dauphin County.
Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Dauphin County. - (Photo / )

A legislative caucus is recommending steps to save the nuclear energy industry in Pennsylvania, with caucus members saying action is needed to preserve high-paying jobs statewide, in particular at Three Mile Island in Central Pennsylvania and Beaver Valley in western Pennsylvania.

The Bipartisan Nuclear Energy Caucus released a long-awaited report Thursday morning at a fire station in Londonderry Township, which is where the Three Mile Island nuclear plant is located. That site was chosen to heighten awareness about the impact of plant closures on local economies, organizers of the press event said. TMI is slated to close next year. Beaver Valley is expected to close by 2021.

Surrounded by people wearing pro-subsidy T-shirts that read "Nuclear Powers PA," State Sen. Ryan Aument, a Republican representing northern Lancaster County, outlined four main recommendations that will be sent to legislators and the governor. Because of the pending closures, a decision must be made as early as possible in 2019, observers have noted.

The four options are:

1. Do nothing, which Aument and others said leaves the state’s nuclear power industry in jeopardy, although plants at Peach Bottom in York County, Susquehanna in Luzerne County, and Limerick in Montgomery County still are competitive.

2. Modify Pennsylvania’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act, or AEPS, to put nuclear generation on an equal footing with other zero-emission electric generation resources, such as wind and solar.

3. Establish a Zero Emissions Credit program, like those in other states, such as New York, that pay generation sources like nuclear for producing "zero carbon emissions."

4. Establish a Pennsylvania carbon pricing program, which essentially would tax plants that emit carbon. The report called this a "long-term solution" with bipartisan support.

In a statement, Exelon, which operates Three Mile Island, praised the work of the caucus.

"We applaud the work of the Nuclear Energy Caucus in crafting a comprehensive report that includes specific policy solutions for valuing the benefits of Pennsylvania’s nuclear power plants, which provide 93 percent of the state’s carbon-free electricity, 16,000 good-paying jobs and a reliable source of energy that keeps the lights on 24/7 for our customers," the company said.

However, well-organized groups have formed to oppose any option that would amount to a subsidy for the nuclear industry, saying that prices will increase for consumers and businesses and provide an unfair advantage to nuclear plants.

"Corporations of an already profitable nuclear industry continue to go door-to-door at state capitals across the country looking to pad their shareholders’ pockets with bailouts from hardworking citizens to increase their own profits" the group Citizens Against Nuclear Bailouts said in a statement released Thursday morning. "From Illinois to New York to New Jersey, the nuclear industry will already benefit from more than $1.1 billion in bailouts every year as it descends on the capital in Harrisburg with hands out yet again asking for more money."

Leaders of the group have been critical of the Nuclear Energy Caucus, saying that it went into its fact-finding with a bias toward helping the nuclear industry. Citizens Against Nuclear Bailouts includes consumer advocates, such as AARP, that argue households will pay more for electricity. It also includes industry trade groups that argue that heavy users of electricity, such as manufacturers, will pay much more for energyif a subsidy plan is approved.

"Adding a new nuclear bailout ‘tax’ will increase energy costs and make it even more difficult to keep and attract Pennsylvania manufacturing jobs," Rod Williamson, executive director of the Industrial Energy Consumers of Pennsylvania, said in a written statement after the press conference. "Nuclear subsidies would create job risk for the over 30,000 employees of IECPA member companies alone. Pennsylvania consumers have already paid billions in costs for these nuclear plants during the deregulation of the electric industry. We should not have to pay for the same plants again!"

Opponents argue that the state’s deregulation of the energy market in the 1990s opened up competition and that market forces should remain at play, which would mean taking option 1 - do nothing. They also note that Pennsylvania has some of the lowest energy prices nationwide because of deregulation.

"Our prices are consistently below the national average," Steve Kratz, a spokesman for Citizens Against Nuclear Bailouts, said in a statement following the press conference. He said that his group is not against the nuclear industry but opposes bailouts because what they can mean to the open markets. Deregulation has led to intense private investment in new technologies, including renewables.

Aument said that the nuclear plants are too important to a long-term energy strategy and noted that they cannot be reopened once they are closed for good.

"The loss of these plants would be a devastating and permanent blow to Pennsylvania’s communities, economy, and environment so we took a hard look at what could and should be done to prevent this, and future, devastation," he said in his prepared remarks.

Local government officials and union leaders have also argued that Pennsylvania leaders have gone out of their way to try to lure new businesses, such as when Amazon was looking for a new corporate headquarters, so it makes sense to step up and save the hundreds of skilled jobs required to run the nuclear plants at Three Mile Island and Beaver Valley.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that, since 2001, the state’s five nuclear power plants have provided more than one-third of all net electricity generation in the state, making it the largest single source of generation. Nationwide, about 60 nuclear power plants operate and produce about 99 gigawatts of power, which the EIA estimates will be reduced to 79 gigawatts by 2050.

Kratz and others have argued that any loss in production could be made up by other generating sources, especially as demand has been relatively flat because of innovations in energy conservation.

The issue will come to a head almost exactly 40 years after the March 28, 1979 near-meltdown at Three Mile Island unit 2, which was shut for good after the accident. Unit 1 operates today but is too small to remain competitive, which is why its owner, Exelon, will close it unless there are subsidies, observers have noted.

Editor's note: This story has been updated from its original version to include a statement from Exelon.

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Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@cpbj.com

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