Pennsylvania Nuclear Power Support Legislation / by Norris McDonald

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Two state lawmakers, Rep. Thomas Mehaffie III, R-Dauphin County and Sen. Ryan Aument, R-Lancaster County, plan to introduce legislation that could keep the Three Mile Island nuclear plant operational beyond its scheduled September closure. They are planning to sponsor bills in their respective chambers that would incorporate nuclear energy into the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act — a 2004 law that requires a percentage of electricity to come from alternative sources.  The bill would add any source that produces electricity with a carbon-free footprint, similar to a California law passed in September requiring 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2045.

Exelon Generation — which owns the Dauphin County Three Mile Island plant's Unit 1 reactor — must order fuel by June 1 or begin an irreversible decommissioning process. The company will not prepare for a refuel without new policy in place.

Nuclear energy sources produce 93 percent of the state's zero-carbon electricity, so it should be put on equal footing with the 16 other environmentally beneficial energy sources included in the law.

Three Miler Island nuclear plant

Three Miler Island nuclear plant

Three Mile Island is the site of the nation's worst nuclear accident. In 1979, the plant's Unit 2 reactor experienced a partial meltdown. Exelon owns and operates only the Unit 1 reactor.

Market prices set by regional grid operator PJM Interconnection are based on gas and don't account for bottom-line costs borne by nuclear operators. In 2004, gas prices were high, and no one anticipated them to drop so low.

Illinois, New Jersey and New York also recently approved subsidies for nuclear power

Exelon made $3.77 billion in net profits in 2017 for its combined operations of 13 nuclear plants — including two others in the state, according to its most recent stockholder report.

The state Legislature's Nuclear Energy Caucus believes updating the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act is the best option for keeping plants open and protecting job retention.

Exelon employs more than 600 at Three Mile Island. 

The bipartisan nuclear caucus, co-chaired by four legislators, including Aument and Mehaffie, released a report in November showing that losing nuclear plants would cost the state about $4.6 billion annually.

Governor Tom Wolf is worried about the workers at possibly affected plants and wants to do what he can to help them, but is looking forward to reviewing the legislation and is refraining from comment before seeing the exact language.

FirstEnergy Corp.'s Beaver Valley plant is due to close in 2021. Almost 25 percent of the state's nuclear generating capacity would be lost if both plants close prematurely. Nuclear accounts for 42 percent of the state's electricity production, and Pennsylvania's other three plants are facing negative market conditions. (York Dispatch, 2/22/2019)