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Pa. legislators urge governor, General Assembly to step in and save TMI nuclear plant

Source: 
Intelligencer Journal

Saying nuclear power in Pennsylvania is necessary and at a crossroads, 75 legislators today called on Gov. Tom Wolf and fellow legislators to take action to prevent the Three Mile Island and Beaver Valley nuclear plants from closing prematurely.

A 44-page report by the Bicameral Nuclear Energy Caucus — co-founded by state Sen. Ryan Aument of Landisville — urges the governor and the General Assembly to join a handful or other states and take matters into their own hands to prevent the loss of two of its nine nuclear plants.

It needs to be done for the sake of the environment and longterm security of an energy supply, the report states.

Specifically, the caucus recommends the state act on a likely upcoming initiative from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that would allow states such as Pennsylvania to independently buy power from sources it deems important.

“In my view, the General Assembly and the governor will need to respond to the FERC order,” Sen. Aument told LNP/LancasterOnline.com. "The time for action is now. We have a very narrow window in early 2019."

"The report we released today outlines clearly the devastating consequences that will result from the premature closing of Pennsylvania's nuclear facilities — devastating consequences to our economy, fuel diversity, Pennsylvania's consumers, reliability, security and resiliency of the electrical grid, overall national security interests and, most certainly, our environment," Aument said at a press conference at the Londonderry Fire Company in Middletown.

Preserving nuclear power, which currently produces 42 percent of all electricity in the state, is critical, the report says.

“The Commonwealth must avert further nuclear plant closures or suffer job loss, community disruption and higher electricity prices,” the report says.

The caucus was critical of PJM Interconnection, which directs the transmission grid for 13 states, including Pennsylvania. PJM has opposed efforts to remove nuclear power from price-based power auctions, in which most of the power being purchased has come from cheaper natural gas power plants.

Complained Aument, "The current determining factor, the exclusive factor, for whether or not a nuclear plant remains open, is shortterm marginal cost. In other words, we make longterm policy decisions based only on what is cheap today.

"This shortsighted approach ignores the many important benefits each resource brings to the market and other important public policy goals that states may have."

PJM also has said Pennsylvania’s electrical supply is robust enough to withstand closing of nuclear plants and worst-case weather outages with electricity being produced from other power sources.

Exelon, the owner of TMI, has told the public and U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission that it will shut down by the end of September 2019. TMI has about 675 employees, including 200 in Lancaster County.

Some environmental and consumer groups argue that a decline in nuclear power is healthy.

They maintain there is no reason to prop up more expensive nuclear power as it would cost ratepayers more.

And groups such as the Nuclear Information and Resource Service take issue with the main argument for preserving nuclear power — that it is free of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

The group maintains most nuclear plants will be gone in a matter of decades and longterm reductions in greenhouse gases must come from more sustainable renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.

That has not stopped some legislators from seeking to avert the closing of the two plants before their licenses’ expire.

In addition to pursuing an opportunity to save nuclear plants through a new federal regulation, the report lists two other options Pennsylvania could pursue to save TMI and Beaver Valley, which is scheduled to close in 2021:

• Extend a Zero Emissions Credit to nuclear plants for their environmental attributes like those afforded to wind and solar. That would make nuclear power more affordable when sold at annual power auctions.

• Establish a state carbon fee that would be a market-based solution valuing nuclear power.

“Currently, damages and associated costs to society caused by carbon pollution are largely not reflected in the price of generating electricity,” the report says. Carbon is the main greenhouse gas contributing to climate change, according to most scientists.

State Rep. Becky Corbin of Chester County observed at the press conference, "The shutdown of nuclear plants across the country is a greenhouse gas emergency. Losing the Beaver Valley and Three Mile Island nuclear plants will negate five the the emissions benefit of all the solar and wind power installed in Pennsylvania to date."

Exelon officials had no immediate comment on the report.

The Natural Resources Defense Council reacted to the report with this:

“This report lays out a series of options for lawmakers grappling with the reality of aging, unprofitable nuclear plants but fails to show the way forward to a true clean energy future. If state leaders decide to provide subsidies to nuclear plants, they must also enact policies to accelerate energy efficiency and solar and wind power, and take critical steps to ensure fairness for consumers, workers and communities.”

PJM Interconnection weighed in with this: "As the industry and PJM’s system evolves, we continue to believe that our competitive markets provide the most efficient and effective mechanism to ensure ongoing reliability at the lowest cost for Pennsylvanians.

"The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has determined that subsidies distort the wholesale electricity markets, and will have the effect of driving competitive generators out of the market and raising costs."

The Pennsylvania-based Citizens Against Nuclear Bailouts responded to the study with this statement: "Our coalition values all sources of power generation; however, regulators at all levels have confirmed that the markets are working and that the electricity grid will remain reliable and resilient, calling into question the need for any policy change that would destroy the state’s competitive electricity marketplace."

Download PDF Nuclear Energy Caucus Reporter Nov. 2018

Credit: AD CRABLE | Staff Writer

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