By Michael Krancer

Few Pennsylvania residents realize that nuclear energy plants provide 34 percent of the state's electricity. Or that the state's five nuclear facilities provide nearly 5,000 high-skills jobs to Pennsylvanians. Also surprising may be the fact that 4,150 Pennsylvania businesses are involved in or benefit from the state's nuclear power facilities.

Nuclear energy plants are clearly vital to Pennsylvania's economic well-being, both short- and long-term. Accordingly, business, civic, and labor leaders, as well as current and past members of Congress, including Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) and Congressman Bob Brady (D., Pa.), will gather in Philadelphia today at an event hosted by Nuclear Matters and the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce to discuss these often-overlooked Pennsylvania resources.

Despite providing nearly 20 percent of the nation's energy supply - and more than one-third of Pennsylvania's power - many nuclear energy plants face economic challenges that threaten their existence. While the momentum around the need to preserve the nation's nuclear fleet is building, there is still much work that needs to be done to ensure our plants continue to drive jobs and economic benefits, as well as produce reliable, clean energy for generations to come. I am glad to see this important dialogue beginning in Pennsylvania today.

First and foremost, the state's nuclear energy plants are job creators and propellers of economic growth. They're economic powerhouses for the communities they serve, with an annual payroll of about $40 million in Pennsylvania, and contributions of $470 million to local economies each year, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute. In addition, Pennsylvania's nuclear energy plants pay more than $45 million in state and local taxes. Finally, more than $1.8 billion of materials, services, and fuel for the nuclear energy industry are purchased annually from more than 4,150 Pennsylvania companies.

Pennsylvania's nuclear plants are also the state's most reliable source of energy, operating at a 92 percent capacity factor, a key measure of reliability. This is critical to retaining and attracting businesses in the state. And given that demand for electricity is only expected to grow across the United States (by as much as 28 percent by 2040, according to the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition), nuclear energy must be a part of Pennsylvania and the country's energy mix in order to meet future electricity demands. Embracing a diverse portfolio of energy solutions will ensure that we do not rely on any one energy source too heavily.

Moreover, nuclear energy is carbon-free. In fact, the nitrogen oxide emissions prevented by nuclear energy facilities in Pennsylvania equal what would be released in a year by 3.5 million passenger cars. Nuclear energy is therefore critical to ensuring that Pennsylvania and the nation can achieve our clean-energy and carbon-reduction goals and make the transition to a future in which our homes, businesses, and environment are carbon-free.

The question of how to preserve some of the nation's nuclear plants that face economic headwinds is a complicated one, and the answer will vary depending on the region. While the answers aren't all apparent right now, today's event is an important first step toward beginning that discussion.

Over the coming months, I'll look forward to seeing local policymakers, community members, and additional stakeholders join in the dialogue around how these plants and their valuable benefits can be maintained for the sake of Pennsylvanians and Americans alike.