The Lead

‘Bad public policy and an unfair burden:’ Electric utility PPL warns that nuke bailout will cost customers $130M a year

By: - March 14, 2019 12:38 pm

An image of the email PPL sent to customers on Wednesday, March 13, announcing the utility company’s opposition to a nuclear industry proposal in Pa.’s House.

*This story was updated on Thursday afternoon with new comments from a PPL spokesman.

The nuclear industry bill introduced in the Republican-controlled state House this week can count one more member on its long list of critics: Central Pennsylvania’s main power supplier.

Pennsylvania Power and Light (PPL), a utility company headquartered in Allentown, told customers in an email Wednesday that the bill being branded as a “bailout” for the nuclear industry would cost its customers a collective $130 million per year.

They’re opposing it on the grounds that it’s “bad public policy and an unfair burden on our customers,” they wrote.

PPL provides electricity to 1.4 million customers in south central and eastern Pennsylvania, according to an industry monitor.

*Though he could not offer a specific figure, PPL spokesman Paul Flake said Thursday that “many” of those customers received Wednesday’s email, which bore the subject line, “Nuclear subsidy plan in PA would raise your electric bill.”

He also said it’s not unusual for the utility company to talk to its customers about legislative issues.

“As a regulated utility, PPL Electric Utilities actively engages with its external stakeholders, including legislators, on a regular basis on issues that potentially impact its customers, including the recently introduced nuclear subsidy legislation,” Flake said.

The bill introduced by Rep. Thomas Mehaffie, R-Dauphin, on Monday would require utility companies to purchase clean energy credits from renewable energy providers, including nuclear power plants, solar companies, and hydropower plants.

PPL says the bill would effectively require them to purchase half their power from the nuclear industry.

Independent analysts expect the bill will cost electric ratepayers an additional $500 million per year, or $1.77 per month for an average household.

Mehaffie says that the cost to consumers will be even higher if the legislature fails to pass his bill and allows nuclear power plants to close.

The out-of-state owners of Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island and Beaver Valley plants have already pledged to permanently decommission their reactors by 2021 if lawmakers don’t throw the industry a lifeline this year.

While they see the environmental benefits of carbon-free nuclear energy and support “a clean energy future,” PPL doesn’t think the bill represents a genuine commitment to clean energy.

Instead, they say, it funnels money to an industry that already benefits from robust competition in Pennsylvania’s energy markets.

“No one disputes that nuclear energy is carbon-free, but we don’t want the public to confuse narrow nuclear subsidy proposals with efficient and effective economy-wide, market-based efforts to move the state toward a low carbon future,” the email reads.

Their explanation conforms with complaints raised by environmental activists, consumer advocates and other opponents to the nuclear bill, including Steve Kratz of the Citizens Against Nuclear Bailouts, who told the Capital Star in February that the proposal is “corporate greed disguised as green.”

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Elizabeth Hardison
Elizabeth Hardison

Elizabeth Hardison covered education policy, election administration, criminal justice and legislative news for the Capital-Star from Jan. 2019-April 2021. You can find her on Twitter @ElizHardison.