Pa. lawmakers should consider this Senate alternative to a nuke bailout | Opinion

Three Mile Island. (Z22/Wikimedia Commons)

By Chris Ross

Back in 2004 when I was a member of the state House of Representatives, I worked with former Republican state Sen. Ted Erickson to enact the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards (AEPS), which provide incentives to bring more clean electric power generation online in Pennsylvania.

It was great to see a burst of new solar installations, wind farms and methane recovery at landfills, among other environmentally friendly facilities being built in the years following.

Naturally after 15 years, my former colleagues are looking at the AEPS to see if it needs to be updated to today’s needs, particularly given the ever more urgent need to reduce carbon emissions.

One idea that has gotten considerable attention, is to add requirement that 50 percent of our power come from nuclear generation. Some of that requirement would result in increased cost to your local utility, which they would pass on to you, the ratepayer.

Three Mile Island at 40: ‘We were told a nuclear accident was as likely as a meteor falling from the sky’

While it’s true that nuclear generation doesn’t emit greenhouse gases, there are several important reasons why I feel this is the wrong way to go.

First, the point of the AEPS was to get people to build new green generation; the nuclear plants are all currently on-line, and no new plants are seriously contemplated.

Each of the existing plants were built before electric deregulation, and were therefore fully subsidized by the ratepayers. Nearly all are making a profit for the for-profit corporations that own them.

I understand that Three Mile Island in Middletown, Dauphin County, is losing money, but after deregulation it was always understood that unprofitable generating plants would be shut down in favor of more efficient competitors, thereby keeping rates down for electric customers.

Second, there are more cost effective ways to make our electric generation cleaner and greener. Instead of adding expensive subsidies to existing profitable nuclear generators, more modest incentives could be provided for battery storage, demand management and increased efficiency, and other innovative alternatives. These incentives would cost the ratepayers less, and get more get more clean power online.

Small businesses fear ‘huge’ electric bill increases under Pa.’s $500 million nuclear proposal

Fortunately two of my former House colleagues, now in the Senate, Sens. Steve Santarsiero, D-Bucks,  Haywood,and Sen. Tom Killion, R-Delaware, along with Sen. Art Haywood, D-Philadelphia, are working on finding just such a creative update to the AEPS.

Their bill would do three things:

It expands the AEPS Tier I requirement from 8 percent to 30 percent by 2030, including 7.5 percent for in-state grid-scale solar and 2.5 percent for in-state distributed generation solar;

It directs the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to study the benefits of a renewable energy storage program;

It provides for several protections that control costs for electricity customers, including long-term contracting, fixed ACP payments, and a 15-year lifetime limit for generating eligible SRECs for solar projects.

The bill deserves our support.

Chris Ross, a Republican, represented the Chester County-based 158th District in the state House of Representatives from 1997-2016. He is currently an adjunct professor in the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University. He writes from Bryn Mawr, Pa. 

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