HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — With nuclear power plant owners seeking a rescue in Pennsylvania, a number of state lawmakers are signaling that they are willing to help — with conditions.
Giving nuclear power plants what opponents call a bailout to ensure they stay open could mean a politically risky vote to hike electric bills across the state. One key motivator for lawmakers could be attaching it to a package that steps up the fight against what some see as a bigger crisis: climate change.
“The crisis is here and we need … to deal with it,” said Rep. Carolyn Comitta, D-Chester. “Even things we thought were problems in the past need to be part of the solution.”
Conversations among lawmakers in the state Capitol now include provisions to impose limits and fees on carbon emissions, or expand on 15-year-old requirements to subsidize renewable energies, such as wind and solar power.
Comitta and others in a potentially sizeable clean-energy bloc say that legislation that raises electricity bills strictly to rescue nuclear power plants won’t cut it for them, even if they embrace nuclear power as a non-carbon power source helpful in curbing global warming.
Lawmakers’ immediate deadline is June 1.
That’s when Chicago-based Exelon Corp., the owner of Three Mile Island, has said it will begin the four-month process of shutting down the plant that was the site of a terrifying partial meltdown in 1979, unless Pennsylvania comes to its financial rescue.
Ohio-based FirstEnergy Corp. has said it will shut down its Beaver Valley nuclear power plant in western Pennsylvania — as well as two nuclear plants in Ohio — in 2021 or before unless Pennsylvania steps up.
Nuclear power plant owners say their fleets are being buffeted by a flood of cheap natural gas plants entering competitive electricity markets, relatively flat post-recession electricity demand and states putting more emphasis on renewable energy and efficiency.
They are fresh off winning subsidies in New Jersey, New York and Illinois, in compromise packages that brought environmental or ratepayer groups on board by advancing renewable energy or energy efficiency goals.
The debate could follow a similar path in Pennsylvania.
“It’s the first time that we’ve seen a great sensitivity to and even seen a great interest in beginning to deal with climate change,” said Rep. Stephen McCarter, D-Montgomery.