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Aerial view of the Three Mile Island nuclear plant and surrounding countryside in Dauphin County.

For a fourth straight year, the Three Mile Island nuclear plant has failed to sell any of its electricity at a key energy auction, and the plant owners say time is running out to keep the plant from closing.

TMI owner Exelon has said the nuclear plant will close by the end of September 2019 if no state or federal regulatory reforms protect nuclear plants, which cannot produce power as cheaply as coal, natural gas, hydro, or subsidized wind or solar.

The recent annual capacity auction did nothing to reverse the downturn.

PJM Interconnection, which directs the transmission grid for 13 states, held the annual auction to allow utilities to sell power to the grid for 2021-2022.

No one purchased TMI’s power. What’s more, power offered by nuclear plants across the region was down by nearly a third compared to last year’s auction.

It was the largest volume of unsold nuclear capacity ever at a PJM auction.

In contrast to TMI, the Peach Bottom nuclear plant — also owned by Exelon — did sell its power.

Electricity produced by nuclear plants can be sold in other ways, but the auction reserves sales at a fixed price and is preferred by power producers.

Renewed plea for help

The dismal results at Wednesday’s auction prompted Exelon to make another plea for regulatory reform that would help nuclear power compete against other forms of energy.

“Now, more than ever, we need federal, regional and state policymakers to urgently take action to preserve the benefits that our nation’s largest and most resilient source of emission-free energy provides to our customers,” said Kathleen Barron, Exelon’s senior vice president of government regulatory affairs and public policy.

“PJM has acknowledged the long-standing market flaws that put nuclear energy at risk, and the time to implement solutions is running out.”

She said that TMI and two other Exelon power plants that did poorly  in the power auction “are economically challenged because the way energy prices are set in PJM does not compensate them for their unique contribution to grid resiliency and their ability to produce large amounts of energy without harmful carbon and air pollution.”

TMI has not been profitable for six years, Exelon said.

In Harrisburg on Wednesday, state labor leaders decried the possible closing of at least two nuclear plants in the state at a meeting of the House Nuclear Energy Caucus.

FirstEnergy Corp, which recently filed for bankruptcy, recently announced that without relief it will 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.