Senate proposal to aid Pennsylvania’s ailing nuclear industry comes with same $450 million price tag

Three Mile Island. (Z22/Wikimedia Commons)

A state Senate Republican has unveiled his plan to aid Pennsylvania’s ailing nuclear industry, which would carry a price tag of at least $450 million, and require energy companies to submit to audits by a state commission.

The bill from Sen. Ryan Aument, R-Lancaster, will be introduced Wednesday, almost one month after Rep. Tom Mehaffie, R-Dauphin, brought forth a companion bill in the House.

Like Mehaffie’s legislation, Aument’s proposal would amend the state’s clean energy law to designate nuclear energy as a renewable energy resource, and require electricity companies to purchase clean energy credits from nuclear plants.

The purchase of those credits would cost between $450 and $500 million annually, Aument said. That price would be borne by energy consumers across the state, resulting in rate increases of roughly $1.53 per month for the average Pennsylvania household.

The goal of the policy, Aument said, is to promote clean energy and prevent long-term energy cost increases that would result from the closure of nuclear power plants in Pennsylvania.

The owners of two of Pennsylvania’s five nuclear plants have threatened to close their facilities in the next few years if state lawmakers do not make changes. Aument’s district borders one of those plants, Three Mile Island in Dauphin County.

“I recognize there is a cost to this program, but I would contend that the cost of doing nothing and kicking the can down the road will be many times greater,” Aument said. “And unfortunately in Harrisburg, we’ve not had a great track record of solving big problems in a timely manner. And they become far more difficult and far more expensive.”

But Aument said that he does not want the bill to be a handout to the nuclear industry.

To that end, he said, his proposal is different from Mehaffie’s in two ways.

First, the Senate bill would allow other clean energy sources, such as wind and solar power, to compete with nuclear energy for credit sales.

It would also require nuclear companies and their clean-energy competitors to submit to audits by the Public Utility Commission to ensure that they are complying with the goals of the clean energy program, namely, to reduce Pennsylvania’s carbon emissions.

The bill allocates one percent of its $450 million price tag — roughly $4.5 million — to the commission for administrative costs.

Like Mehaffie’s bill, Aument’s proposal includes a provision to ensure that nuclear power plants stay open once they join the clean energy program. His bill includes a clawback provision that creates fines for companies that withdraw their energy generating sites from the program before six years.

Aument expects that some nuclear companies “may be uncomfortable” with the provisions his bill lays out.

He said that nuclear industry professionals did provide a draft bill as well as some technical expertise throughout the drafting process. But the legislation his office developed was driven by members of the state Senate, he said, not by corporations.

“At the end of the day, I think these are important accountability and transparency measures,” Aument said.

Once Aument formally introduces his bill Wednesday afternoon, Senate Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Cameron, will assign it to a Senate committee, which will hold public hearings and decide whether or not to advance it for a full Senate vote.

The House Consumer Affairs Committee, which is considering Mehaffie’s bill, has scheduled the first public hearing for the House proposal for Monday, April 8.

The nuclear industry hopes one bill will pass before the General Assembly adjourns on June 30 for a summer recess. Exelon Corporation, owner of Three Mile Island, has said it will begin closing the facility in July if state laws don’t change before then.

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