To bail out or not bail out nuclear power? That’s the question at the Capitol

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Three Mile Island has been a powerful presence in the Midstate.

It employs nearly 700 people and nuclear provides 37 percent of Pennsylvania’s power.

It’s reliable energy.

It does not emit greenhouse gases.

It’s in jeopardy.

Cheap and abundant natural gas in Pennsylvania has nuclear nearing an economic meltdown. TMI announced Tuesday that, barring help from state and federal lawmakers, the plant will close in September 2019.

“We want to elevate a conversation in this building to talk about the importance of nuclear energy, the pressures the industry is facing,” Sen. Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster) said.

Aument is chairman of the informal nuclear caucus. TMI is adjacent to his district and plenty of its workforce are his constituents. Aument insists that a healthy energy portfolio must include nuclear.

“It’s in the interest of the residents of this commonwealth that we have a diverse, reliable and resilient market,” Aument said.

The nuclear industry is exerting power at the Capitol, looking for legislative assistance. Possibilities include a fee tacked on to electric bills to keep nuclear viable, or perhaps a requirement that a certain percentage of power be delivered by nuclear. Critics – and there are a lot of them – call those options a bailout.

“If you can get taxpayers to subsidize, and not have to make more difficult decisions, that’s always an easier route than going the route of figuring out how to stand on your own two legs without taxpayer subsidies,” said Matt Brouillette of Commonwealth Partners, a free-market think tank.

Lobbyists have been hired on both sides of the issue and are already duking it out under the dome. But thus far, there’s no bill to spar over.

“I’ve seen more energy and more money spent fighting a non-existent bailout bill than I’ve ever seen devoted toward something that doesn’t exist,” Aument said.

Dave Taylor, president of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association, fears what he calls an “ambush bill”. He said that happened in Illinois when it bailed out nuclear power.

“There was no bill that was introduced until the last possible moment,” Taylor said, “so people who were opposed to a bailout didn’t have a clean target to shoot at or time to object and raise questions.”

Aument smiled and said he couldn’t guarantee that such a thing wouldn’t happen in Pennsylvania. He said he couldn’t speak for 253 lawmakers, but the conservative Republican did say he’d have to bail on any bailout bill.

“I don’t believe it’s politically achievable in Pennsylvania,” Aument said. “I don’t believe support would be here to pass it and I don’t believe it’s sound public policy.”

Taylor also wonders about the $10 billion in “stranded costs” that ratepayers forked over on their electric bills while the state moved toward electric deregulation.

“They should’ve taken that money and used it to upgrade their capacity, their assets,” Taylor said. “If they didn’t do that, I don’t know why.”

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