By Erin Kramer
It’s been nearly a month since Exelon, one of the largest energy companies in the United States, announced the closure of its Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear reactor. This will not, however, be the last time we hear from Exelon, which owns two other nuclear plant reactors in Pennsylvania.
No, the debate over who should or should not pay for the preservation of the commonwealth’s expensive nuclear energy industry will continue to play out in the coming months, especially as Ohio-based FirstEnergy plans to retire its twin-unit Beaver Valley Power Station in Western Pennsylvania in 2021 without monetary support from the state.
I feel for the hardworking Pennsylvanians who will lose their jobs at TMI. One PA works in many disadvantaged communities, including those who have lost good-paying skilled jobs, so I have seen the effects of economically distraught communities firsthand. Exelon and our legislators must do everything in their power to ensure a just transition and an alternative economic plan for the people and communities whose livelihoods will be negatively impacted by this closure.
But make no mistake: the closure of this nuclear plant is not the fault of legislators failing to enact policy that would course correct “economic challenges” and “market flaws,” as Exelon claimed was the problem.
TMI is closing in large part because Exelon asked the state for more than $540 million of subsidies per year to be handed out to nuclear generators, yet refused to be transparent and open their books to make the case that this industry-wide subsidy was necessary. While TMI alone may be unprofitable, Exelon as a company is valued at upwards of $33 billion. That doesn’t seem like a suffering company.
This, of course, is the same old song and dance energy companies operating in Pennsylvania have performed for decades at the expense of residents who have subsidized them with tax breaks and various financial supports. As always, the most economically vulnerable residents bear the financial brunt of these big industry giveaways as well as the impacts of pollution from coal-fired power plants, natural gas infrastructure and petrochemical operations. These companies socialize the risks and privatize the profits and expect us to be ok with this arrangement. No more.
In the state of Pennsylvania, the well-being and safety of residents has always been secondary to the demands of profit-hungry energy companies. Pennsylvania exists as an extraction colony within the United States and has since its founding – a place where dirty fossil fuel energy companies are permitted to mine, drill, produce and transport with near totally impunity. While nuclear energy may produce electricity without emitting greenhouse gasses, it produces a significant amount of waste that is costly and dangerous to store.
Exelon argues that their failure to compete and thrive in the market is not their fault, but ours. “We” are not properly valuing their carbon-free generation. Well, the right way to promote and properly value carbon free energy generation would be to put a cap on carbon emissions from Pennsylvania’s power sector and make investments in clean, renewable energy that can actually revitalize communities. Such a plan would create family-sustaining jobs on energy projects that improve public health rather than leaving our communities with a legacy of pollution and illness.
It’s time that big energy corporations are held accountable.
It’s offensive that our low-income members are put through rigorous and drawn-out background checks to prove their financial need in order to receive access to affordable housing, food, and utility assistance when large corporations insist they do not need to comply with the same standards of economic transparency when holding out their hand for billions of dollars in subsidies from taxpayers.
One Pennsylvania represents members in communities of color who are disproportionately impacted by the effects of fossil fuel extraction and energy generation, making bailouts of profitable corporate interests even more egregious.
This time, the legislature chose the right course of action, which in this case, was to reject Exelon’s pressure cooker tactics and refuse to be bullied into action without thorough vetting of the bailout proposals.
They realized that what Exelon was asking for would put too great a burden on all Pennsylvanians’ energy bills. But the next time, and there will be a next time, that a big energy company comes around asking for a subsidy in the name of their workers and communities, we encourage our legislators to stand with us in our mission: Follow the Money. Confront the Power. Make the Change.
Erin Kramer is the executive director of the advocacy group One Pennsylvania. She writes from Philadelphia.