Legislation calling for electric ratepayers to prop up nuclear power in Pennsylvania — and save Three Mile Island from closing — was introduced Monday in the state House.
State Sen. Ryan Aument of Landisville said he would introduce similar but not identical legislation in the Senate later this week.
“My focus remains on finalizing a proposal that I intend to introduce along with Senators Yudichak, Gordner, Boscola, Folmer, and Vogel that is consistent with our report and comments I have made over the last two years with regards to the Commonwealth's ability to make strategic public policy decisions to ensure that Pennsylvania consumers are able to benefit from the environmental and economic attributes of nuclear energy.”
Lawmakers in both chambers will have to act quickly if they want to prevent TMI from closing — a process that is scheduled to begin in September.
TMI owner Exelon has said that it needs assurances of support by June, which is when it would have to order another round of uranium fuel to run the plant for another two years.
Meanwhile, FirstEnergy says it will close its Beaver Valley reactors in western Pennsylvania by 2021.
State Rep. Thomas Mehaffie of Dauphin County, who introduced the bill on Monday, said nuclear power deserves preferential treatment as a “clean” energy source.
His plan would cost ratepayers $500 million in subsidies, adding about $1.77 a month to the average household bill, he said.
That’s a small amount to pay, Mehaffie added, compared to the environmental costs of losing a reliable carbon-free energy source that does not contribute to global warming, and to losing the economic benefits the state’s five nuclear plants offer.
Looking to ratepayers
The legislation would designate nuclear power as a non-polluting renewable energy, similar to wind and solar.
It would require a percentage of energy purchased by electric-distribution companies to come from nuclear power. The added cost of buying the more expensive power — power produced by natural gas and coal-fired plants, for example, is cheaper — would be passed on to ratepayers.
But the natural gas industry, consumer groups, including the AARP, and large industrial users of electricity quickly panned the legislation, calling it a bailout that would saddle all Pennsylvania residents with added costs while hurting free-market competition.
Also quickly coming out against the plan were environmental groups that had considered endorsing the legislation if it was tied to a comprehensive plan to cut back on all sources of carbon emissions from energy production and further stimulate renewable energy sources in the state.
“This is an expensive Band-Aid that saddles consumers with the majority of risk,” said Elaine Labalme, Pennsylvania advocacy director of the Environmental Defense Fund.
“Pennsylvania must take concrete action to reduce its carbon emissions. It’s the only state from Maine to Georgia without a limit on carbon pollution from the power sector and today’s proposed legislation will leave Pennsylvania even further behind.”
Other environmental groups opposing the bill were PennFuture, PennEnvironment, Keystone Progress, Clean Water Action, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Solar Energy Association, The Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council and Clean Air Council.
Other groups questioned whether nuclear power in Pennsylvania — beyond Three Mile Island — need a financial rescue. They cited a PJM Interconnection study that found four of the five plants are currently profitable.
Nearly 40 percent of the electricity produced in Pennsylvania comes from nuclear power. More than 27 percent of that is exported to other states.