With plant shutdowns looming, Pa.’s nuclear industry braces for a policy showdown

    Two of Pennsylvania's five nuclear power plants could close by 2021 if lawmakers don't update the state's alternative energy standards. (Creative Commons photo)

    Pennsylvania gets almost half of its energy from nuclear power, but that could soon change if lawmakers don’t amend the state’s alternative energy policies.

    Two of Pennsylvania’s five nuclear power plants are headed toward shutdown in the next two years due to stiff competition from the state’s natural gas providers.

    Pennsylvania’s nuclear industry create more than 16,000 engineering, manufacturing, and mechanical jobs across 500 industry vendors, advocates say. 

    Representatives from some of these companies rallied in the state Capitol rotunda Wednesday, where they told lawmakers that local economies would suffer if nuclear power plants close.

    “… Nuclear power plants employ thousands of family wage jobs, and they need thousands of new replacement components which can be made not only right here in the U.S., but in Pennsylvania,” Jim Stouch, VP of York-based Precision Custom Components, which manufactures nuclear reactor parts, said. “We depend on a future that includes safe, dependable clean and stably priced nuclear power energy.”

    Lawmakers from the Bipartisan Nuclear Energy Caucus announced earlier this week that they would throw the industry a lifeline by updating the state’s alternative energy standards.

    Representatives Thomas Mehaffie, R-Dauphin, and Sen. Ryan Aument, R-Lancaster, are proposing bills to amend Pennsylvania’s Alternative Energy Standards Portfolio Act, which requires utility companies to purchase a set amount of energy from clean, alternative sources.

    Nuclear power isn’t currently recognized as an alternative energy source under the state’s alternative energy law. But the reform Mehaffie and Aumet are proposing would add it to the list of alternative energy options for Pennsylvania utility providers, which currently includes solar power, wind power, and biofuels.

    Both legislators circulated co-sponsorship memos to their colleagues in the House and Senate earlier this week, describing in broad terms what the bills would do.

    The policy change would create new markets for nuclear power plants, but would likely lead to higher costs for ratepayers. According to industry advocates, however, closing nuclear plants could have devastating impacts on the communities where they’re located.

    Exelon Corporation, which owns Three Mile Island plant near Harrisburg, announced in 2017 it would shutter the plant in 2019 if the state doesn’t change its energy laws. A plant in Beaver County is also set to be closed in 2021.

    Nuclear power plants across the country have struggled to compete with natural gas industry in recent years, which can provide cheaper energy thanks to the boom in domestic drilling.

    The closing of a nuclear power plant in Vernon, Vt. has cost the neighboring community half-a-billion dollars a year since it shut down in 2014, according to John Kotek, the vice president of policy at the Nuclear Energy Institute, a Washington D.C.-based industry trade group.

    Small businesses closed shop, residents left town, and taxes increased in the years that followed the plant’s closure, he said.

    “These are jobs that build community,” Kotek said. “Losing these jobs can have a devastating impact.”

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