Should lawmakers prop up Pennsylvania’s struggling nuclear industry? The debate, explained

February 14, 2019 Pennsylvania Capital-Star
PEC in the News

When you turned on the lights in your house this morning, there’s a good chance the electricity came from a nuclear power plant.

Nuclear energy has been Pennsylvania’s largest energy source for decades. But the industry says it’s struggling to maintain its foothold as energy demand flatlines and natural gas prices plummet.

The issue

Two of Pennsylvania’s five nuclear power plants are slated to close in the near future due to stagnant profits. That’s why the nuclear industry is asking Pennsylvania lawmakers to amend the state’s clean energy law to classify nuclear as a renewable source.

Nuclear energy has long been recognized as a resilient, reliable and safe source of low-carbon energy. But it’s not designated as a clean energy source under Pennsylvania law.

That would change under a proposal from members of the state’s Nuclear Caucus. It would let nuclear plants compete with renewable sources, such as wind, solar, and biofuels, which, by law, must provide 18 percent of Pennsylvania’s energy.

They say a reform would preserve the state’s nuclear power fleet and prevent the loss of thousands of well paying jobs.

“We definitely value nuclear as a zero-carbon energy source, but we really think if Pennsylvania is going to do something to help the nuclear industry, it needs to be broader commitment to a a carbon reduction strategy,” John Walliser of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council said.

But opponents say that similar deals, including one in neighboring New Jersey, have led to higher electricity bills for consumers.

The prospect of higher energy costs has garnered the proposal plenty of critics, who also say it’s unfair to make consumers bail out an industry that churns reliable profits.

Nuclear competitors, such as the natural gas industry, also say the government shouldn’t tamper with free market forces in the energy sector.

The bailout debate will likely be one of Pennsylvania’s most significant policy fights of 2019. So, let’s break it down a bit more…

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