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Sen. Folmer: We will fight TMI battle ‘with passion’; Mehaffie shares concerns with Exelon officials

By Jason Maddux jasonmaddux@pressandjournal.com
Posted 5/30/17

Sen. Mike Folmer told the Press & Journal that his office will tackle the Three Mile Island challenge “with real passion,” but he realizes that it might not be enough to keep TMI …

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Sen. Folmer: We will fight TMI battle ‘with passion’; Mehaffie shares concerns with Exelon officials

Three Mile Island
Three Mile Island
Staff photo by Jason Maddux

Sen. Mike Folmer told the Press & Journal that his office will tackle the Three Mile Island challenge “with real passion,” but he realizes that it might not be enough to keep TMI open.

Folmer’s 48th Senate District includes Londonderry Township.

“We’ve been ongoing with this for about two years and working with various government agencies, including the governor’s office and Exelon itself, on how to make TMI profitable — not just profitable but competitive,” Folmer said Tuesday afternoon after the announcement.

But he made it clear that he is against bailouts and “corporate welfare.”

“Rather than give a handout, how can we give them a hand-up?” he said, possibly through tax credits and friendlier regulations.

Exelon, the corporate owner of TMI, has made it clear that it wants nuclear power to have an even playing field with other zero-carbon emissions in the state.

Folmer said he wants a state energy policy to be developed, so Pennsylvania will always have affordable energy, because his biggest fear is one industry will rule the state’s source of electricity.

“We want to make sure we have a balance. I don’t want one industry to monopolize our source of electricity, aka gas,” the Lebanon Republican said.

While cheap gas prices are driving some of the issues with TMI, Folmer said that gas prices were high 12 years ago, after Hurricane Katrina, “and then we discovered Marcellus Shale.”

If energy costs in Pennsylvania go off the chart, industries will be in trouble, because the affordable energy costs are “keeping people at work,” he said.

Folmer lamented the potential loss of well paying jobs and the donations that TMI and its employees make to the community.

“They’ve done a great job of being a good neighbor there,” he said.

Folmer said he hasn’t given up on a legislative response to Exelon.

“We’re working on it really hard. That’s not just a statement. We are going to be looking at this aggressively,” he said.

But “there’s only so much government can do,” he said.

Folmer wants to know from Exelon: If they get what they need through legislation, are they going to keep TMI open?”

“It would be a bummer to do this and then they still close TMI,” he said.

Mehaffie talks with Exelon

Rep. Tom Mehaffie said he is deeply concerned for the loss of jobs in the community and in his district, which includes Middletown and Lower Swatara Township.

He said he knows of more than 100 employees who live in his 106th House District.

He spent last Thursday touring the Peach Bottom nuclear plant in Delta (York County), also owned by Exelon, as part of the so-called Nuclear Caucus.

In March, Sens. Ryan Aument and John Yudichak along with Reps. Becky Corbin and Rob Matzie announced the formation of a bipartisan caucus to focus on nuclear energy issues.

Mehaffie expressed to Exelon officials the devastating economic impact that closure of the plant would have for the area.

“They understand, they do. But they’re a business. They’re willing to work with us and see what gets done,” the Lower Swatara Republican said.

Mehaffie also pointed out the donations TMI and its employees have made to the area.

TMI is at a disadvantage compared to places such as Peach Bottom, because TMI has only a single reactor. Peach Bottom has about 850 employees to operate two units, Mehaffie said. TMI has about 675 to operate one.

So in a way, the 1979 accident that permanently shut down TMI’s Unit 2 still haunts the area.

Despite Exelon’s call for legislative action, he said the company has not brought forth specifics that it wants.

“These family-sustaining jobs, these are great jobs for the area and for the district and we want to make sure these people are taken care of,” he said.

“I think everybody is willing to entertain what we can do to address this situation,” he added, including zero-carbon emission tax credits.

The premature closure of TMI will mean a “significant loss of family-sustaining jobs, high capacity baseload clean energy, and the many direct and indirect economic benefits that surround the production of electricity from a nuclear power plant,” a release from the Nuclear Caucus on Tuesday said.

“As state lawmakers, we take seriously our obligation to set energy policies that help promote Pennsylvania’s economy. We equally are concerned about meeting the commonwealth’s environmental goals. The closure of Three Mile Island will make meeting these challenges even more difficult,” it said.

Wolf responds

Gov. Tom Wolf is concerned about potential layoffs and empathizes with TMI’s employees, according to his press secretary, J.J. Abbot.

“As we move forward, we expect a robust conversation about the state’s energy sector. Gov. Wolf is open to these conversations and looks forward to engaging with the General Assembly about what direction Pennsylvania will go in regards to its energy sector, including the future of nuclear power,” Abbott said in a release sent to the Press & Journal.

Hickernell “disappointed”

Rep. Dave Hickernell, who represents Londonderry Township in the House of Representatives, said he was “very disappointed” in the decision to close Three Mile Island.

“I feel bad for the employees at Three Mile Island and their families who are impacted by this decision. Three Mile Island’s importance to the surrounding community, the 98th District and the state cannot be understated. I remain hopeful that the situation could change and the decision can be reversed,” he said in a press release.

Hickernell was not available for further comment to the Press & Journal on Tuesday.

“TMI provides about 700 stable, family-sustaining jobs and nuclear power provides 38 percent of all of Pennsylvania’s electricity virtually emission free. No other form of electrical generation can produce more emission-free power, more reliably and with a smaller footprint than nuclear power,” he said in his press release Tuesday morning.

“As a member of the Senate-House Nuclear Energy Caucus, I recognize the environmental and economic importance of nuclear power and am looking for ways to support and strengthen nuclear power generation,” he added.

Bailout ‘ridiculous’

David Taylor, president of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association, said he wants an “open, dyanamic market” to maximize domestic energy production, and he hopes nuclear power can get up to speed. But he does want to see government involvement.

“It’s ridiculous that there should be a taxpayer or rate payer funded bailout for one sector of our energy market, just because they aren’t prepared for the challenges of competition,” he said in a press release.

Taylor said nuclear facilities should have prepared better to compete by upgrading facilities.