Pennsylvania and the nation need diverse energy resources to ensure our national security and global competitiveness and to maintain our leadership role around the world. As a former Pennsylvania governor and U.S. secretary of homeland security, I have come to appreciate that only an electric grid built on diverse and stable sources of energy can withstand evolving threats — from polar vortexes, terrorist acts or cyber attacks — and make sure the lights stay on.
State officials are responsible for ensuring fuel diversity while complying with federal and state environmental standards. This is best accomplished by defining goals and designing competitive markets that benefit the health and welfare of all citizens.
For example, as governor, I led the effort in the mid-1990s, with bipartisan support in the General Assembly, to restructure Pennsylvania’s energy market. This has led to millions of dollars in savings for taxpayers and built a strong foundation to accomplish other things — such as meeting federal targets for clean energy, energy resiliency and air pollution.
One tool that governors and legislators have employed in more than 30 states is “portfolio standards” to require energy diversity. After I left office, the Legislature and Gov. Ed Rendell established the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (AEPS) to ensure clean-energy development and attract investment under a competitive structure, which complemented the energy-market restructuring.
Although the AEPS casts a wide net, the one resource it missed is nuclear power.
Nuclear is the nation’s and the commonwealth’s most abundant source of clean energy. Nuclear plants emit no greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. They provide “baseload” power, which means they reliably run 24/7 — and for 18 months to 24 months without refueling. Nuclear is a critical component of a resilient electricity grid, which is essential to national security. Our security depends on energy sources that are stable and diverse to consistently meet demands from critical customers such as military bases and government facilities.
Pennsylvania’s leadership in clean and resilient energy is at a crossroads with the potential premature retirement of two nuclear power plants. Recent work by the bipartisan Nuclear Energy Caucus in the Legislature, the state Department of Environmental Protection, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, leading academic voices at MIT and the University of Pennsylvania, and national voices such as The Nature Conservancy and Union of Concerned Scientists all found what I strongly believe — preserving nuclear power is essential for the environment, the economy and national security.
I am proud to have led in deregulating Pennsylvania’s electricity market. I am equally proud of our landmark environmental initiatives and investments in economic development and job creation. We must keep creating new jobs. But we also must acknowledge that, despite the abundance of natural gas from shale deposits that has done so much for the commonwealth’s economy, we still must maintain diverse energy supplies to prevent us from becoming overly dependent on any one source.
By taking the commonsense approach of amending the AEPS statute to include nuclear energy, we can blend Pennsylvania’s competitive market structure with environmental protection, provide thousands of family-sustaining jobs and contribute to our national security.
Tom Ridge is chairman of Ridge Global, a risk-management consultancy, and a partner at Ridge Policy Group, a government relations firm. FirstEnergy Solutions, which operates nuclear power plants in Ohio and Pennsylvania, is a client of the policy group.