Editorial: Nuclear energy makes its own money
Think about Pennsylvania and energy and you might think coal or natural gas.
But the state really shines when it comes to nuclear. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Pennsylvania is second only to Illinois when it comes to nuclear power. What lights up most of our homes is nuclear power. Pennsylvania makes so much electricity from nuclear energy that much of it is exported.
We may consume more natural gas (and produce more than any state but Texas), but nuclear edges it out in terms of electrical production, with coal a distant third.
But that might change. As of Wednesday, Exelon Corp. said it is making plans to start shuttering Three Mile Island on June 1.
Exelon and First Energy have been lobbying the Legislature for years to get the state to pass what many called a bailout. It was more like permission to get money directly from the users rather than a pool of money that would come from state coffers.
The request might make sense if you only looked at TMI. Was it losing money? Yes. But then, it was only working with one reactor after the famous 1979 incident that remains America’s biggest nuclear shake-up. It has almost all of the costs that the other four plants in Pennsylvania have, but can only produce half the energy.
But those other four plants are doing just fine. In fact, they are making about $600 million a year, according to state Rep. Eric Nelson, R-Hempfield. He is happy to support nuclear energy. He just doesn’t want to authorize a de facto tax passed along to electric customers at an estimate of nearly $1 billion annually.
The Environmental Defense Fund is also opposed. Andrew Williams, director of regulatory and legislative affairs, sees nuclear as an important part of producing clean energy in Pennsylvania, but would rather see investment in lowering regional greenhouse gas emissions through a mix of sources, including nuclear and, yes, even coal.
Closing TMI makes business sense but it has to be separated from support for nuclear energy overall, and there is no reason that Pennsylvanians should foot the bill for companies that are already making huge profits and exporting energy. Do we really believe they will take their $600 million ball and go home?
Maybe home is where we should look. Exelon is helmed in Illinois, where similar legislation was passed in 2016 regarding two facilities. In February, Exelon threatened closure of three other Illinois nuclear plants.