Three Mile Island

Aerial photo of the Three Mile Island nuclear plant taken April 18, 2018.

With two nuclear plants in Pennsylvania now inching closer to the point of no return, it appears there is little political will for a financial life preserver on the legislative level.

“A bailout, subsidy-type approach that we’ve seen in New York, Illinois, now New Jersey — I’ve not been satisfied that is politically viable here in Pennsylvania,” state Sen. Ryan Aument told the PLS Reporter.

Aument spoke after a hearing with beleaguered utility leaders called by the House-Senate Nuclear Energy Caucus that the Landisville Republican helped form to come to the aid of nuclear plants. He was not available for additional comment Monday.

Some nuclear plants, with high overhead, have become unprofitable in the face of new power plants fueled by cheaper natural gas and with subsidized wind and solar energy.

The nuclear industry argues that it should be rewarded for producing energy without significant greenhouse gases and for generating a lot of power at a single point.

Exelon has said that without federal or state help, its Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Dauphin County will close in September 2019, idling more than 600 workers.

FirstEnergy Corp, which recently filed for bankruptcy, recently announced that without relief it would close its Beaver Valley nuclear plant near Pittsburgh in 2021, as well as two nuclear plants in Ohio.

Together, TMI and Beaver Valley amount to 25 percent of the nuclear plants in a state that is second only to Illinois in its production of nuclear energy.

Appeals to feds

FirstEnergy Corp. has taken the drastic step of asking the U.S. Department of Energy to declare an energy emergency to ensure profits for nuclear and coal plants.

DOE has indicated it is cool to such a move.

In January, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rejected a DOE proposal to approve rules to subsidize nuclear and coal plants to keep the nation’s power supply “reliable and resilient."

But the Trump administration reportedly is considering a new initiative to make good on the president’s campaign pledge to protect the coal and nuclear power industries.

Bloomberg is reporting that President Trump is considering coming to the aid of struggling coal and nuclear by invoking a Cold War-era federal law that gives a president sweeping authority to nationalize the energy sector to make sure it is available in times of war or after a disaster.

The Defense Production Act was passed under the Truman administration and was used then to cap wages and impose price controls on the steel industry.

The White House Press Office did not respond to a request for comment.

Undoing greenhouse gases?

At the Nuclear Caucus hearing in Harrisburg last week, representatives from Exelon, FirstEnergy and Talen Energy said that the federal government is not likely to act in time to save the nuclear plants, and they appealed for Pennsylvania legislators to act as several other states have.

“Help is not coming from Washington,” said Kathleen Barron, Exelon’s senior vice president of federal regulatory affairs and policy.

The utility representatives warned that the loss of four nuclear plants in Pennsylvania and Ohio would negate 25 years of state efforts to move toward power that does not contribute to climate change.

A new study prepared for the pro-nuclear group Nuclear Matters concluded the loss of the four nuclear plants would result in the increase of more than 20 million harmful carbon emissions, remove thousands of jobs, harm local economies and cause higher electricity prices for consumers.

Aument said at the hearing that generation of electricity that revolves strictly around the cheapest price has benefited consumers in the short-term. But he said there should be a strategy for the long-term future of energy availability and that state legislators should examine the issue.

U.S Rep. Lloyd Smucker of West Lampeter Township said, "I support both state and federal efforts to help keep Three Mile Island and Beaver Valley nuclear plants, and the jobs they support, operating.

"These power plants are critical to the resiliency of our national electric grid, and help keep energy prices low for Pennsylvania families. That’s why I sent a letter to DOE Secretary Perry last year about the importance of his department’s baseload power study. Their study concluded that we must preserve our nuclear plants to continue the source of reliable, emission-free energy. I’ll keep working with the Department of Energy and local officials to support the nuclear industry and to keep these plants operational.”

Gov. Tom Wolf’s office did not respond by deadline to a request for comment on the issue. Neither did the campaigns of Republican gubernatorial candidates Scott Wagner and Laura Ellsworth.

Matt Beynon, a spokesman for GOP gubernatorial candidate Paul Mango, said Mango “believes in an all-of-the-above strategy for energy production in Pennsylvania. That includes fossil fuels, natural gas, nuclear and alternative energy. He has opposed government intervention that would function as a de facto tax increase and raise the price of energy for Pennsylvania families.”