HARRISBURG, Pa. – Four decades after the Three Mile Island was shut down for America's worst commercial nuclear accident, the financial rescue of nuclear power plants is increasing the highest levels of government.
In Pennsylvania, nuclear power plant owners have been working for two years to build support for the kind of economic packages already approved by New York, New Jersey and Illinois. Meanwhile, these packages have triggered legal appeals to the US Supreme Court and a debate among federal energy regulators to protect ratepayers from higher electricity prices.
These loose ends shade Pennsylvania as state lawmakers are preparing to decide whether to help the state's nuclear plants.
"All that Pennsylvania does will be subject to a degree of politics and legal uncertainty," said Christina Simeone, director of politics and external affairs at the Kleinman Energy Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. [1
The pursuit of state guarantees has asked why ratepayers should foot the cost of keeping nuclear power plants open, and what nuclear power provides an indispensable environmental benefit in the age of global warming.
The Spotlight moved in 2017 to Pennsylvania, the nation's nuclear power no. 2.
That's when the Three Mile Islands owner, Chicago-based Exelon Corp., announced it will shut down the plant that was the site of a frightening partial meltdown in 1979 unless Pennsylvania comes to its economic rescue. It stipulated this on September 30 as the end date.
Ohio-Based FirstEnergy Corp. also said it will shut down its nuclear power plant in the Beaver Valley in western Pennsylvania – as well as two nuclear facilities in Ohio – within three years of less Pennsylvania
to date, no rescue has been written into law.
Rather, sympathetic lawmakers have issued a broadly-based note stating that they will introduce legislation to effectively provide Pennsylvania's nuclear power plant with the same preferential treatment as solar, wind and a handful of other niche energy sources received under a 2004 state law.
Owners of Pennsylvania's five nuclear power plants – primarily Exelon, FirstEnergy and Allentown-based Talen Energy – support this effort.
PJM Interconnection, which runs the electric network covering Pennsylvania and the 65 million people from Illinois east to Washington, has said the four nuclear power stations – two in Penn sylvania and two in Ohio – will not affect the availability of electricity.
But last summer, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission decided in a 3-2 decision PJM to come up with a solution to protect the competitive market from what it described as a dangerous cascade of pressure on states to throw up otherwise viable power plants.
PJM put an idea in October that, if adopted, could create new dilemmas, especially for core business owners.
"At that point, they come back to the state and ask for more? Maybe," said Glen Thomas, a Pennsylvania-based consultant specializing in utility regulations. "Are they leaving the business because they don't have enough income? Be it suppressing the market price of other generators? Certainly, it creates some problems for sure. "
It's a long shot that the US Supreme Court will raise appeals in lawsuits that challenge New York's and Illinois' nuclear power subsidies. say lawyers after the case.
But the FERC action still looms, and it is not clear when or how commissioners will respond.
Exelon said that Pennsylvania must adopt legislation by June 1 if it is to continue operating Three Mile Island, since fuel must be ordered months in advance.
Gov. Tom Wolf has not decided to save Pennsylvania nuclear power plants – although his administration suggests keeping them operational would cut Pennsylvania greenhouse gas emissions over the coming decades – and none of the two legislators.
Meanwhile, the battle celebrates trade unions, corporate associations, securities lawyers, AARP, environmental groups, anti-nuclear activists, and Pennsylvania's significant natural gas industry.
"FERC has created all this uncertainty," said Miles Farmer, a Washington lawyer, DC-based Natural Resources Defense Council. "It is not clear how customers should be protected and it is very difficult for states to set up programs when in the dark about how the rules will work. "