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Coalition rallies for Three Mile Island in Middletown: 'The clock is ticking on a solution,' Pries says

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 9/28/18

Three Mile Island means a lot of dough coming in — and going out — for Roberto’s Pizza on South Union Street in Middletown.

Every other September when up to 1,500 additional …

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Coalition rallies for Three Mile Island in Middletown: 'The clock is ticking on a solution,' Pries says

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Three Mile Island means a lot of dough coming in — and going out — for Roberto’s Pizza on South Union Street in Middletown.

Every other September when up to 1,500 additional workers are employed at the nuclear power plant for a refueling shutdown, Roberto’s delivers 450 pizzas, subs and other food items to TMI during every day of the month.

Roberto's gets about 10 percent of its business directly from TMI over the course of a year, said Roberto's owner David Kitner.

Roberto's is just one example of the impact closing TMI will have on businesses throughout the region, if the plant is closed a year from now as TMI’s parent company, Exelon, announced in May 2017, Dauphin County Commissioner Mike Pries said during a rally held in Middletown’s downtown square Thursday morning aimed at saving TMI.

“The impact on just (Roberto’s) will be very significant. Just imagine what happens throughout the county to our businesses and other individuals impacted on a daily basis and the workers in those businesses, if this goes away,” Pries said.

Thursday’s was the latest of several public rallies held since the May 2017 announcement to try to avert the closure of TMI. They have been led by Clean Jobs for Pennsylvania, a coalition Pries co-chairs. It is made up of elected officials, organized labor and leaders of community and business organizations.

With the planned closure now just a year away, the coalition with this rally sought to put a human face on the impact of closing TMI.

Besides hearing from Roberto's Kitner about what the loss of TMI would mean, about 25 of TMI’s 675 full-time employees were at the rally, sharing their stories of how the closing would affect the lives of them and their families.

One of them, Tammy Hanlon of Seven Valleys in York County, is facing losing the job she has had at TMI as an instrument chemist for 11 years.

“I’m not old enough to retire, and I’m not young enough to start a new career,” Hanlon said. “So it really affects me because I only have like eight to 10 years left before I retire. I will have to find a job elsewhere. Hopefully another Exelon power plant, but if not, I’ll have to start over again.”

Kitner said losing TMI would be “catastrophic” to Londonderry Township, Middletown and to surrounding communities, in terms of tax revenue and the impact on local businesses.

In Londonderry Township, taxes will have to go up if TMI leaves, if just to make up for the money the township gets from TMI to support the township fire company, said Anna Dale, a Londonderry Township supervisor.

The business from TMI — not just during the every-other-September outages — is “a lifeline” for Roberto’s and for other restaurants in downtown Middletown such as Kuppy’s and the Brownstone, Kitner added.

“It’s just unfathomable that this plant closes, so I’m calling on all lawmakers to stand up and do the right thing,” Kitner said.

Exelon has said it will prematurely retire TMI in September 2019, unless state lawmakers pass legislation to make TMI and other nuclear plants in Pennsylvania more competitive with natural gas and other forms of energy in the state, including alternative sources such as wind and solar.

“We need our state Legislature and the governor to revise our state’s energy policy and recognize the carbon-free performance of TMI and the state’s other nuclear power plants,” Pries said. “The clock is ticking on a solution and it’s ticking right now. Time is running out.”

While underscoring the need to keep up public pressure on the lawmakers, Pries and state Rep. Tom Mehaffie, R-Lower Swatara Township, who also spoke at the rally, sounded optimistic that a legislative solution will come out of Harrisburg in time to save TMI.

A member of the General Assembly’s Nuclear Energy Caucus, Mehaffie during the rally repeated his belief that legislation will emerge from the caucus in time — but that it won’t be until 2019.

Pries expects state legislators will “kick into high gear” working towards a solution to save TMI after the November elections.

“Timing is everything,” he said in remarks after the rally. “After November, I think you are going to see a lot of activity at the state level because this isn’t just a TMI thing. There are other (nuclear) plants across the state that are potentially being impacted too, and it’s a national security issue.”

Mehaffie said the loss of TMI and other nuclear plants “is a national problem,” based on what representatives of the U.S. Department of Energy and Homeland Security have told the caucus.

A national solution is most desirable, but that won’t come in time to save TMI, so it is up to state lawmakers to act, Mehaffie said.

As other states such as Illinois, New York and New Jersey have acted to support nuclear plants, Mehaffie said, Pennsylvania has to do the same.

“If I’m not mistaken” Pennsylvania has “the second largest fleet of nuclear power plants in the nation. So it is important that Pennsylvania gets this right,” he said.

Yet not all nuclear power plants in Pennsylvania are the same. While TMI hasn’t made a profit in six years and has been put on life support by Exelon, Exelon is looking to extend the operating license of its two reactors at the Peach Bottom nuclear power plant in York County.

Because of the 1979 accident at TMI, it has only one reactor.

Asked if state lawmakers can craft a solution that saves TMI as well as all the other nuclear plants in Pennsylvania, Mehaffie responded “absolutely.”

“As I look at this and what I see going on in the Legislature and what I see going on outside the Legislature, I see very positive results for saving TMI,” he said.