As we all tried to stay cool over the past week during this summer’s most recent heat wave most of us probably didn’t realize that Three Mile Island and our state’s four other nuclear power plants were providing more than 40 percent of our electricity to help keep our air conditioners running.
Nuclear power plays a vital role in providing our power grid with stable and reliable electricity in all kinds of weather. Severe weather can strain the grid and that is when nuclear power’s 24/7, reliable energy is especially important. We’ve seen this before during recent extreme winter storms and summer heat waves.
However, today Pennsylvania faces a major threat to our energy mix and therefore to our power grid, economy, and environment. Because of market flaws in the way nuclear power is valued on the power grid, Three Mile Island and the Beaver Valley Nuclear Plant near Pittsburgh will close prematurely in 2019 and 2021 respectively. And if things don’t change, our state’s other nuclear power plants are also at risk to be shuttered early.
As an elected official responsible for the safety and security of our community, losing the most reliable source of energy on our electric grid gives me a great deal of concern. When nuclear plants shut down, our power grid becomes more reliant on less resilient resources like natural gas plants and renewables. While natural gas and renewable energy provide an important contribution to our energy mix, they cannot compete with a nuclear plant’s ability to generate large amounts of electricity on a 24/7 basis.
Additionally, nuclear plants have 18-24 months of fuel stored in their reactor while gas plants rely on potentially vulnerable pipelines and renewables rely on the wind and the sun to fuel their ability to generate electricity. The “fuel secure” benefit of nuclear energy is unmatched and critical to maintain a resilient electric grid.
We all benefit from the reliability and stability that nuclear power provides the grid, but our economy is also better off with a robust nuclear industry in Pennsylvania. According to the newest report issued by the Brattle Group, electricity prices in Pennsylvania will increase by $285 million if TMI and Beaver Valley close, making doing business more expensive and hitting the pocketbooks of working families. The companies that own the plants have reported that plant closures would mean more than 1,600 permanent, jobs will be lost, and thousands of jobs in the building trades would be negatively impacted.
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The environment will also take a hit with increased emissions of CO2 and other air pollutants as carbon-emitting sources of power will be used to replace the non-pollutant emitting nuclear plants. Our energy security will be less reliable.
I joined the Clean Jobs for Pennsylvania coalition with more than a 1,000 people who are asking the state legislature and Gov. Wolf to take action to properly value our nuclear plants and keep our power grid secure.
The clock is ticking. TMI is scheduled to close in about one year. Closing a nuclear power plant is a non-reversable decision. Once a plant is closed, it is closed forever.
This issue is not unique to Pennsylvania. When faced with similar challenges, Illinois, New York and New Jersey enacted zero emission credit (ZEC) programs that properly valued their nuclear plants and kept those reliable power plants operating. It is time for Pennsylvania to explore options similar to this to keep nuclear power part of our state’s energy portfolio and ensure consumers can enjoy the long-term benefits of a diverse and stable electricity market.
The next time you enjoy the coolness of your air conditioner or fan, think about the nuclear plants that are providing the power to them. And if you are concerned about losing those plants contact your state legislator to let him or her know or visit www.cleanjobsforpennsylvania to learn more.