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Nuclear bill in Senate differs from Rep. Mehaffie’s in three ways

By Dan Miller


Posted 4/10/19

Legislation intended to preserve Three Mile Island and the four other nuclear power plants in Pennsylvania has been introduced by Sen. Ryan Aument, R-Lancaster.

Aument’s legislation — …

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Nuclear bill in Senate differs from Rep. Mehaffie’s in three ways

Pennsylvania Statehouse Capitol
Pennsylvania Statehouse Capitol

Legislation intended to preserve Three Mile Island and the four other nuclear power plants in Pennsylvania has been introduced by Sen. Ryan Aument, R-Lancaster.

Aument’s legislation — Senate Bill 510 — is similar, although not exactly the same, as House Bill 11, the legislation that was introduced on March 11 by Rep. Tom Mehaffie, R-Lower Swatara Township.

Both proposals would make TMI and the other nuclear plants eligible for credits that electric utilities would have to purchase, by adding nuclear to the list of 16 sources of renewable energy, such as wind and solar, that are now included in the state’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards.

Including nuclear in the portfolio — or making nuclear eligible for the credits — is needed to recognize nuclear’s “carbon-free” generation of electricity, supporters of the legislative proposals contend.

Exelon Generation, which owns and operates TMI’s Unit 1 reactor, announced in May 2017 that it would prematurely shut TMI down in September 2019, unless state government enacted reforms to place nuclear on a level playing field with solar, wind, and the other renewables that are part of the AEPS.

TMI as of 2018 had not made a profit in six years, according to Exelon.

The four other nuclear power plants in Pennsylvania are all still considered profitable. However FirstEnergy Corp. has said it will close the Beaver Valley nuclear power plant in western Pennsylvania in 2021, absent the type of government reforms Exelon is calling for to save TMI.

Public hearings on Mehaffie’s legislation began Monday before the House Consumer Affairs Committee. More are scheduled for April 15, April 29 and May 6.

Aument’s bill has been referred to the Senate Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee, which will hold a public hearing on it at 1:30 p.m. today, April 9.

As with Mehaffie, Aument says that loss of nuclear plants in Pennsylvania will cost residents an estimated $4.6 billion a year, including $788 million in higher electricity costs for consumers and $2 million in lost gross domestic product. Electric utilities are expected to pass the cost of the credits onto consumers, and Mehaffie said his legislation would cost on average $500 million a year.

Mehaffie projects his legislation would increase the average residential electric bill by $1.77 per month — but that same bill will go up by $2.39 a month if TMI and the other nuclear plants are allowed to close.

Exelon has issued statements supporting and calling for passage of both pieces of legislation — Mehaffie’s and Aument’s.

There are three main differences between Mehaffie’s legislation and the proposal introduced by Aument, according to Aument’s office.

Aument’s proposal includes an audit provision that would allow the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to ensure that the alternative energy credits are being spent “appropriately.”

Both Mehaffie’s and Aument’s proposals would require a nuclear plant commit to operate for at least six years in order to receive the credit.

Aument’s bill would require any nuclear power plant operators that pull out of the program prematurely to pay back all or a portion of the credits they have received, depending on how long they were in the program.

Aument’s bill also includes “technical changes” intended to make sure that renewable electricity producers such as solar and wind also would benefit from the new tier that would be created to add nuclear to the portfolio standards.

Specifically, solar and wind are now included in what is known as Tier 1 of the standards. At some point, expected as early as 2021, there will be excess generation capacity in Tier 1.

At that point, solar and wind and the other renewables would be able to benefit from the same credits for which nuclear will be eligible by nuclear being placed in the new Tier III.

Mehaffie’s bill includes similar provisions intended to support wind, solar and other renewables.

“The intent is the same for both bills” but how this is accomplished is not exactly the same in both bills, a staffer for Aument said.

Aument said both nuclear and the renewables such as wind and solar can grow. It need not be a choice between one or the other.

“I do not believe that adding nuclear to (the standards) is a zero-sum game where only one source — either nuclear or renewables — can grow,” Aument said in an emailed statement to the Press & Journal.

“In fact, the experience in other states suggests the exact opposite, as it seems that the best way to meet significant carbon reduction goals is to include nuclear in state portfolio standards, because nuclear generation provides unique resiliency, reliability, and environmental benefits that supplement — not overshadow — the benefits of renewables,” Aument said. “To that end, I’ve taken great care to ensure that there is space in my proposed Tier III to build up our state’s renewable portfolio while also retaining a competitive market structure. Not only is this necessary to ensure a bridge to a more energy-secure future, but I think it makes the proposal more politically viable as well.”

As with Mehaffie’s legislation, critics see Aument’s legislation as an unwarranted bailout of profitable nuclear power plant operators in the private sector.

“Why would any lawmaker in either branch of the state Legislature think it is a good idea to steal from taxpayers to pay for a problem that doesn’t exist?” the group Citizens Against Nuclear Bailouts said in a statement issued April 3. “We know the state’s nuclear power generators are profitable.”

The group also cited an analysis by the Industrial Energy Consumers of Pennsylvania saying that the legislation to preserve nuclear would lead to “crippling costs to manufacturers” in Pennsylvania, resulting in price increases of products to consumers and job losses.