Lawmakers Push To Save Nuclear Power
Pennsylvania’s nuclear power industry, including the Susquehanna Steam Electric Station in Salem Twp., faces a challenging future and needs help, according to a bipartisan group of state lawmakers.
The Susquehanna plant, owned by Talen Energy, is among the largest employers in the region, with a workforce of about 900.
Elected officials say they want to make sure those jobs are secure.
A report released late last year by the Bicameral Nuclear Energy Caucus — a small group of state lawmakers of both major parties, from both houses of the state legislature — says lawmakers need to help nuclear power producers stay competitive in an energy market flooded with cheap natural gas.
“A severe drop in gas prices has created a perfect storm in the nuclear industry,” said state Sen. John Yudichak, co-chair of the energy caucus.
The Marcellus Shale natural gas boom has driven the drop in natural gas prices, said Yudichak, D-14, Plymouth Twp.
Nuclear power is an important part of the state’s energy-supply industry, thanks to an increasing focus on carbon-free energy sources, Yudichak said.
One option state lawmakers need to consider is a carbon emissions tax, which would benefit nuclear energy suppliers, he said.
Derek Jones, plant manager at the Susquehanna Station, noted another advantage of nuclear power: It does not depend on sunshine or wind, unlike other alternative forms of energy generation, such as clusters of solar panels or windmills.
“Just think about grid reliability,” Jones said. “Nuclear power is ... 100 percent of the time. It makes the grid extremely stable.”
Current conditions in the energy market, especially the drop in natural gas prices, make it difficult for nuclear power producers to compete, Jones said. The announcement that Three Mile island — the nuclear plant near Harrisburg that became known world-wide following an accident in 1979 — will close this year should serve as an alarm bell, he said.
Jones said he has seen the adverse impact the closure of a nuclear plant can have on a community as well as plant employees.
Jones worked at a nuclear plant in Vermont for many years before it shut down in 2014, he said. Hundreds of workers scattered across the country to find other jobs, while the area surrounding the plant suffered economically after the plant was shuttered, he said.
Protecting the jobs of Susquehanna plant workers is essential, said state Rep. Tarah Toohil, R-116, Butler Twp., whose district includes Salem Twp.
“My primary concern is the jobs of our nuclear employees and that we prevent any surprise closures,” Toohil wrote in an email. “Nuclear plants have a lifespan and we do not want any more unexpected and premature closures in Pennsylvania.”
Not everyone agrees that lawmakers should help the nuclear industry through measures such as a carbon tax, especially if that is at the expense of other alternative forms of energy.
The American Association of Retired Persons, which advocates for people 50 and older, has opposed nuclear industry subsidies, arguing that such measures would burden senior citizens on fixed incomes.
Those concerns are unfounded, Yudichak said.
As long as all players in the energy-production market are on a level playing field, consumers will only benefit, he said.
“We’ve had the Marcellus boom,” Yudichak said. “By all accounts we have a 100-year supply of gas. As we transition from fossil fuels, nuclear needs to be in the mix.”
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