Can Carbon Pricing Can Keep Nuclear Viable?

June 19, 2018


Contact: Josh Raulerson, Director of Communications
Phone: 412-481-9400
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Can Carbon Pricing Can Keep Nuclear Viable?
PEC Offers Testimony In Joint Legislative Hearing


Harrisburg — Testifying before the General Assembly’s Bicameral Nuclear Energy Caucus today, Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC) President Davitt Woodwell told lawmakers that, in addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, putting a price on carbon would spur needed competition in the energy market. Doing so, he said, could help put Pennsylvania’s beleaguered nuclear industry on a sound financial footing at a time when nuclear energy has a vital role to play in transitioning the state’s energy portfolio toward decarbonization.

“We believe that the loss of today’s nuclear fleet would be a terrible blow to the progress already made in reducing Pennsylvania’s contribution to climate change, and would hamstring all of our combined efforts moving forward,” Woodwell said. “We also believe there are approaches that can be developed to allow for the continued operation of today’s nuclear fleet while also allowing other forms of energy generation to prosper.”

Carbon pricing is one of several carbon-reduction mechanisms PEC has been exploring in the year since it hosted a groundbreaking conference focusing on decarbonization of electricity generation in Pennsylvania. Over two days in March 2017, state- and national-level experts meeting in Pittsburgh identified a range of economic, technological, and policy solutions that could realistically facilitate reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 90 percent over the next thirty years.

Consensus soon crystalized around four concepts – energy efficiency, grid modernization, carbon capture, and carbon pricing – which offered the greatest potential for reducing emissions while also meeting the Commonwealth’s energy needs and creating new opportunities for economic growth.

“In its simplest form,” Woodwell said, “carbon pricing sends market signals that there is a preference for lower emissions, and incents the production of energy with those lower emissions.” As a market-based solution, Woodwell added, carbon pricing is “technology-agnostic” and does not favor any one energy source over another, focusing instead on outcomes.

“Moving forward to a deeply decarbonized energy future means including a wide variety of generation options optimized to reduce carbon emissions to the greatest extent possible as soon as possible,” Woodwell said. “In our view and for varying lengths of time, and with a number of different economic drivers, this will include renewables, natural gas, coal, and nuclear.”

Various carbon pricing models have already been advanced in the U.S., including cap and trade programs like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), renewable portfolio standards like the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards (AEPS), and fees assessed on energy production and consumption.

PEC is currently studying these and other approaches with the goal of developing a proposal tailored to Pennsylvania by the end of 2018.

“The effectiveness of any pricing program depends on a number of variables that need to be closely considered and modeled to understand its impacts on generation mix, energy prices, consumer impacts, and greenhouse gas emissions,” Woodwell said.

Despite the complexity of these calculations, currently available evidence suggests the potential for a wide range of economic and environmental benefits from the carbon-pricing approach.

Citing a recent RGGI report, Woodwell noted that “even a modest price on emissions through a trading regime can reduce emissions, create jobs, provide positive economic returns, and generate revenues for state programs.”

The full text of Woodwell’s testimony is available here.

More information on PEC’s deep decarbonization initiative, including videos and the conference white paper, can be found at



About the Pennsylvania Environmental Council
The Pennsylvania Environmental Council is a statewide organization that brings people, government, and business together to find real world solutions for environmental challenges. These solutions bring about sustainable communities, protect our water resources, and address energy and climate issues. PEC was founded in 1970 and serves the entire state through offices in Luzerne, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and State College.

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