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Three Mile Island once again fails to sell energy in annual auction; closure of nuclear plant looms

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Posted 5/24/18

Exelon Corp. announced today that its Three Mile Island nuclear facility once again “did not clear” in a key annual energy auction, meaning regional grid operator PJM did not purchase …

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Three Mile Island once again fails to sell energy in annual auction; closure of nuclear plant looms

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Exelon Corp. announced Thursday, May 24, that its Three Mile Island nuclear facility once again “did not clear” in a key annual energy auction, meaning regional grid operator PJM did not purchase power from the local facility.

Capacity auctions are held annually by Audobon, Pennsylvania-based PJM to ensure enough power generation resources are available to meet demand in its region covering all or part of 13 states and the District of Columbia. The auction results take effect June 1, 2021.

TMI has failed to clear the past four auctions held by PJM, which means that TMI is not able to produce electricity at a price that the market is willing to pay.

Exelon, based in Warrenville, Illinois, announced last year that unless there are changes to Pennsylvania’s energy portfolio to include nuclear power, the facility will close in October 2019.

“Now, more than ever, we need federal, regional and state policymakers to urgently take action to preserve the benefits that our nation’s largest and most resilient source of emissions-free energy provides to our customers,” Kathleen Barrón, Exelon’s senior vice president of government and regulatory affairs and public policy, said in a press release. “PJM has acknowledged the long-standing market flaws that put nuclear energy at risk, and the time to implement solutions is running out.”

According to the press release, TMI is “economically challenged because the way energy prices are set in PJM does not compensate them for their unique contribution to grid resiliency and their ability to produce large amounts of energy without harmful carbon and air pollution.”

Nuclear produces more emissions-free energy than solar and wind combined, and is the only emissions-free power source that can operate reliably for up to two years without refueling, according to the Exelon release.

TMI has not been profitable for six years “as a result of persistently low wholesale energy prices and market rules that treat polluting plants the same as emissions-free sources of power,” according to Exelon. Last June, the company said it had lost more than $300 million in the previous five years despite being one of Exelon’s best-performing plants.

TMI is different from many nuclear plants in that it has only one functioning nuclear reactor — a byproduct of the 1979 accident. Exelon’s other Pennsylvania plants such as Peach Bottom and Limerick have two functioning units.

TMI has about 675 employees. It began commercial operation in September 1974. It can generate 837 net megawatts, enough to power 800,000 average U.S. homes, according to the company. The power plant’s annual payroll is about $60 million.

Three Mile Island is known around the world for the accident on March 2, 1979, in which Unit 2 suffered a partial core meltdown. Unit 2 has been closed since then while Unit 1 still operates.

The facility is licensed to operate until 2034.

PJM, founded in 1927, serves 65 million people in all or parts of Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.

PJM coordinates and directs the operation of the region’s transmission grid, which includes over 84,042 miles of transmission lines. It administers a competitive wholesale electricity market; and plans regional transmission expansion improvements to maintain grid reliability and relieve congestion, according to its website.

“We’re sometimes called air traffic controllers of the power grid,” according to its website. “Just like air traffic controllers, we don’t own the equipment we direct. Others own the power lines and power plants.”