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Guest Editorial

Guest Editorial: Nuclear bailout terrible deal for electricity customers

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The operators of Pennsylvania’s nuclear power plants are pulling out all the stops at the state capitol these days to secure legislative approval for a bailout plan.

But when you take a closer look at the proposal, the real motives of the nuclear power operators become clear. The bailout plan is nothing more than a way to enhance the already sizable bottom line for their corporations, at the expense of the state’s electricity customers.

First, the proposed bailout legislation will raise electricity rates for only Pennsylvania customers, even though our nuclear plants provide power to a regional grid that supplies customers in 12 other states. That means Pennsylvania electricity ratepayers would be paying a premium so customers in other states can enjoy discounted electric rates. That’s just not fair.

And then there’s the cost. One estimate sets the price tag of a bailout at $500 million — but it’s important to remember that will be $500 million per year for at least six years-the initial term of the surcharge in the current legislation. That’s putting Pennsylvania ratepayers on the hook for some $3 billion.

The impact of a nuclear bailout will also be felt by the state’s business community. That’s why the Pennsylvania’s leading business advocates, including the state Chamber of Commerce and Manufacturers’ Association oppose the bailout. In fact, PPL utilities, Central Pennsylvania’s main electric power supplier, has already labeled the plan as “bad public policy.”

The bottom line is Pennsylvania electric utility customers should not be forced to pay higher rates to benefit corporations already making millions in profits. Currently, four out of five nuclear power generators in Pennsylvania are profitable — and are projected to make a total profit of more than $600 million this year alone.

Of course, the one plant that isn’t profitable sits at the site of America’s worst commercial nuclear accident. Three Mile Island’s 40 year old Unit 1 reactor near Harrisburg currently can’t produce enough electricity to remain financially viable, and is scheduled to shut down later this year. PJM Interconnection, which runs the regional electricity grid, is already on record saying that the closing of TMI will not impact the reliability of the local electricity supply.

And before we consider a bailout for nuclear power providers, it’s important to remember that ratepayers are already on the hook for the cleanup costs associated with the partial meltdown of TMI’s Unit 2 reactor that has sat dormant since the 1979 accident—currently estimated at over $1.6 billion.

The current version of the bailout proposal would give nuclear power plants special protections as part of the state’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (AEPS) similar to wind and solar power generators. But that law was intended to advance the development of new and innovative renewable energy technology, not bail out aging and uneconomical nuclear reactors that can’t compete anymore in the electricity marketplace.

In the end, Pennsylvania utility customers of all ages expect to pay fair and reasonable prices for electricity — and not a dollar more. Our elected leaders need to put the interests of consumers above those of already profitable nuclear power companies.

Bill Johnston-Walsh is the State Director of AARP Pennsylvania.


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