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TMI at risk of early retirement after poor energy auction results

Dave Marcheskie, senior site communications manager for Three Mile Island

Exelon Corp. announced Wednesday that its Three Mile Island and Quad Cities nuclear plants did not clear in the latest PJM capacity auction, placing it at risk of early retirement.

“TMI remains economically challenged as a result of continued low wholesale power prices and the lack of federal or Pennsylvania energy policies that value zero-emissions nuclear energy,” the company said in a press release “Exelon has been working with stakeholders on options for the continued operation of TMI, which has not been profitable in five years.”

TMI did not clear in the past three PJM base residual auctions.

According to Excelon, capacity auctions are held annually by grid operator 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.

This is the fifth delivery year for which capacity auctions have been held under “capacity performance” reforms ordered by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to increase power plant reliability and strengthen the region’s energy supply.

Exelon is pushing for “compensation for its ability to produce electricity without harmful carbon and air pollution and to contribute to grid resilience” — in other words, similar credits that other non-carbon energy sources receive.

The Pittsburgh Press-Gazette reported in March that Exelon’s executive vice president for government and regulatory affairs, Joe Dominguez, said that the company’s activities in Pennsylvania revolve around “establishing a recognition that nuclear is the lowest cost and most reliable zero-carbon option for our customers.”

TMI has about 700 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.

This was the most serious accident in U.S. commercial nuclear power plant operating history, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

While many residents still say otherwise, the NRC says the event's "small radioactive releases had no detectable health effects on plant workers or the public."

The accident led to sweeping reforms of nuclear safety.