Pennsylvania is fast approaching zero hour for the state’s ailing nuclear power industry.
Lawmakers are expected to introduce legislation in the coming weeks that would provide financial support for nuclear power, paid for by every Pennsylvania electric customer. How many millions of dollars it will cost, or how much customers will pay, is yet to be decided.
But if some rescue is not approved by the General Assembly before its summer break, Exelon Generation plans to close the ailing Three Mile Island Unit 1 reactor near Harrisburg in September. That, and other planned nuclear plant closures, could leave thousands of workers out of jobs and significantly reduce competition among power producers, the industry says.
“The time has to be this spring, whether it’s February, March, April or May," said David I. Fein, senior vice president of state governmental and regulatory affairs at Exelon, the nation’s largest operator of nuclear power plants. “That’s the realistic window of opportunity before TMI will continue along a pathway of preparing for shutdown and ultimate decommissioning.”
The nuclear industry and its supporters in the legislature have engaged in a two-year campaign to prepare the political landscape for a rescue, carefully delaying debate until after November’s statewide elections. On the opposing side is Citizens Against Nuclear Bailouts — the natural gas industry, along with large industrial electricity consumers and the AARP. Both sides are stockpiling research and position papers like armies massed at the border.
“They’re definitely aiming for this spring, the nuclear industry that is,” said Steve Kratz, a spokesman for Citizens Against Nuclear Bailouts. “We’re aiming for never.”
The industry’s advocates say a proposed rescue would involve adding nuclear energy to the state’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act, a 2004 law that requires electricity distributors to buy 18 percent of their power by 2021 from producers of renewable or alternative energy, including generators that use waste coal, landfill gas, wood waste, or municipal solid waste.
The cost to consumers of a nuclear subsidy would depend upon how much of a market share the lawmakers allotted to a clean energy standard that includes nuclear energy. It could be big — nuclear generators in 2017 supplied 39 percent of Pennsylvania’s electricity demand, according to federal Energy Department data.
Nuclear supporters argue that the industry is a big employer in Pennsylvania and that the industry produces 93 percent of the state’s zero-carbon electricity. Three Mile Island Unit 1 alone employs 675 people and produces more carbon-free power than all the state’s solar, wind, and hydroelectric plants combined. They say preservation of nuclear power assures a diverse and reliable energy mix.