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Rep. Mehaffie proposes legislation aimed at saving TMI by giving credits to Pa. nuclear industry

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 3/11/19

State Rep. Tom Mehaffie announced legislation Monday intended to keep Three Mile Island and Pennsylvania’s four other nuclear plants open by making them eligible for a program that would pay …

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Rep. Mehaffie proposes legislation aimed at saving TMI by giving credits to Pa. nuclear industry

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State Rep. Tom Mehaffie announced legislation Monday intended to keep Three Mile Island and Pennsylvania’s four other nuclear plants open by making them eligible for a program that would pay them a credit for producing carbon-free electricity.

TMI owners Exelon Corp. in May 2017 announced it would close TMI in September 2019, unless the government approves policy changes to make nuclear power more economically competitive with other sources of electricity.

“I think this gives (TMI) an opportunity to be on a level playing field,” said Mehaffie, R-Lower Swatara Township. “I think it gives the opportunity for Exelon to receive these credits that are deserved through the environmental attribute that they produce, and I think that (TMI) will be fine and it’ll work through that process. These credits … will help them out financially.”

Mehaffie’s legislation, unveiled as he was surrounded by union workers and other supporters at Ironworkers Local Union 404 in Lower Paxton Township, would amend Pennsylvania’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act to include nuclear energy.

The AEPS recognizes 16 forms of energy production in Pennsylvania, including wind, solar, and hydro-energy.

Amending the standards to add a new “tier III” that includes nuclear energy “addresses the fundamental unfairness that even though Pennsylvania’s nuclear energy provides 93 percent of the commonwealth’s zero emission carbon electricity and emits no harmful EPA-regulated pollutants, nuclear energy is not permitted to participate in Pennsylvania’s AEPS program,” Mehaffie said.

The credit for nuclear power would come when utilities bill customers for the cost of buying nuclear power at a similar premium as the other energy producers in the portfolio.

“The markets do not treat all sources of clean energy the same, and they do not penalize polluters,” he added.

Doing nothing and allowing Pennsylvania’s nuclear energy plants to close would increase costs for consumers in the state by $4.6 billion, including $788 million more each year in higher electricity bills, Mehaffie said.

He estimated the cost of implementing his proposed legislation would average $500 million a year.

Without nuclear energy, the typical residential electric rate would increase by $2.39 a month, compared to going up by $1.77 per month with nuclear energy, Mehaffie said.

Independent analysts do not predict much effect, if any, on ratepayer bills if Three Mile Island and Beaver Valley shut down, according to a story by The Associated Press on Monday.

TMI as of 2018 had not made a profit in six years, according to Exelon, whereas the four other nuclear plants in Pennsylvania are still considered profitable.

FirstEnergy Corp., however, has said it will close the Beaver Valley nuclear power plant in western Pennsylvania in 2021, unless the government acts to correct what FirstEnergy considers inequities in the market that work against nuclear energy.

One requirement in the legislation is a nuclear plant must commit to operate for at least six years to receive the credit.

Mehaffie chose the union hall to announce his legislation to illustrate the economic losses throughout the state that would occur if the nuclear plants close.

He said that his own father, who came down from Schuylkill County for the announcement, was a union worker who spent his “entire career...helping to build these plants, TMI and of course Susquehanna and Berwick,” Mehaffie said. “So we when talk about the 16,000 good paying jobs” from nuclear energy statewide “I’m here to tell you from my personal experience exactly how much these jobs mean.”

In this region, TMI has 675 full-time workers with an annual payroll of $60 million. The plant pays more than $1 million combined in annual taxes to Lower Dauphin School District, Londonderry Township and Dauphin County.

The plant and its employees also contribute about $300,000 a year to charities throughout the region.

Exelon in response released a statement from David Fein, senior vice president of state governmental and regulatory affairs, urging support for Mehaffie’s proposal, “which will put Pennsylvania on a path to a clean energy future, preserve 16,000 good-paying jobs and save consumers $788 million a year in energy costs.”

Opponents reacted with their own statements asking legislators to not support what groups label a “bailout” of the nuclear power industry.

Mehaffie’s bill would reward already profitable private companies such as Exelon, FirstEnergy and Talen Energy, and at the same time “significantly increase consumer electricity prices, eliminate consumer choice and fundamentally change the way Pennsylvania’s competitive energy markets operate,” according to a statement issued by Citizens Against Nuclear Bailouts.

“This legislation does nothing to advance the deployment of renewable energy in Pennsylvania and further locks us into increasingly expensive nuclear power from old and outdated equipment,” according to a another statement issued on behalf of a coalition of groups including Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Clean Air Council and others.

Mehaffie expects his legislation will be “very close” to legislation to soon come out of the state Senate sponsored by Sen. Ryan Aument, R-Lancaster, chairman of the Pennsylvania Nuclear Energy Caucus. That group was formed in spring 2017. Mehaffie is a co-chairman of the caucus.

Mehaffie’s 33-page proposed legislation is on his website and can be accessed by clicking on Keep Powering Pennsylvania Act on his home page.

As for what happens now, Mehaffie said the next step is for the speaker of the state House to refer his bill to a committee.