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TMI watchdog group on closure: 'It’s not a happy time .. nobody is spiking the ball in the end zone'

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 5/8/19

A “middle way” is doable that can avert the worst impacts of the September shutdown of Three Mile Island that Exelon says is inevitable, says Eric Epstein, chairman of the watchdog group …

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TMI watchdog group on closure: 'It’s not a happy time .. nobody is spiking the ball in the end zone'

Activist Gene Stilp (right) gets ready to lead an anti-TMI bailout cheer before the start of the TMI Survivors dinner in Middletown on March 23.
Activist Gene Stilp (right) gets ready to lead an anti-TMI bailout cheer before the start of the TMI Survivors dinner in Middletown on March 23.
staff photo by dan miller
Posted

A “middle way” is doable that can avert the worst impacts of the September shutdown of Three Mile Island that Exelon says is inevitable, says Eric Epstein, chairman of the watchdog group TMI Alert.

In November, TMI Alert submitted a plan that Epstein describes as a “community option” regarding the future shutdown of TMI, where the plant is cleaned up immediately, the tax base and plant staffing levels are preserved, and local municipalities and counties continue to receive reimbursement for emergency planning and radiation monitoring.

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Exelon says again: Three Mile Island is closing in September because Legislature has not acted

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Epstein says TMI Alert sent its plan to Exelon, but Exelon never responded.

But the plan submitted by TMI Alert can still be put in place, Epstein said.

“We have negotiated five different settlements with the owners of TMI. It’s doable. We’ve been around for 42 years. We are going to be around for another 42 years. Now is when the heavy lifting begins,” he said.

Exelon is blaming state legislators for failing to act in time to meet Exelon’s June 1 deadline for ordering fuel to keep TMI going beyond September.

However, Epstein says that Exelon “miscalculated” in creating “an artificial deadline to pressure the Legislature.”

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'A punch in the stomach': Rep. Mehaffie's statement on Exelon's confirmation of TMI's closure

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Moreover, the company was naive in thinking it could get the Legislature to act in time to save TMI, under Exelon’s timetable.

“They dropped the legislation in March,” Epstein said. “Anyone who drops legislation in March and expects it to be passed by May should book a ticket on Fantasy Airlines. It just doesn’t work that way.”

Epstein said he believes that the legislation that was introduced to provide economic support to TMI and the four other nuclear plants in Pennsylvania is now “dead.”

“When you pull out TMI, you lose the support of a lot of south central Pennsylvania Republicans,” he said. “Some of the folks here would have supported a bailout for local economic reasons. Some of these same people are not anxious to bail out Philadelphia or Pittsburgh.”

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Clean Jobs for Pennsylvania faults Gov. Wolf, Legislature on failure to act to save TMI

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Even without TMI, Pennsylvania still has the largest concentration of nuclear power in the country, second only to Illinois — but Illinois does not have the natural gas that Pennsylvania has, Epstein says.

“It’s a good thing,” he adds. “We have diversity. We are at a good place. TMI is not the economic engine it used to be.”

“This is a resilient community. We have endured job losses at the steel mill and Hershey and AMP. Nobody bailed them out. It’s not a happy time. Nobody is spiking the ball in the end zone. We have to rally around the workers.”

Transition plan

Under TMI Alert’s proposed “transition plan” for Three Mile Island, about which Epstein testified before the state House Environmental Committee on April 29, 65 percent of salaries of all TMI Unit 1 employees would be put into a fund for two years to assist with the transitioning of those employees.

The transition plan would cover a time period for as long as spent fuel is on site at Three Mile Island.

Charitable contributions and tax revenue paid by Exelon would remain constant and be extended based upon a settlement reached between Dauphin County and the owners of TMI in 2008.

That agreement was to expire in 2017. Exelon in December 2017 agreed to extend the agreement for two years, but did not want to extend it further given Exelon’s announced intention to shut down TMI by Sept. 30.

Exelon would continue making annual payments to the state and to each county within 10 miles of TMI to defray costs of providing emergency radiological planning, at an agreed-upon reduced level until all spent nuclear fuel has been removed from the site, according to the TMI Alert proposal.

Anti-bailout group reacts

The blame for Three Mile Island closing this September belongs with the plant’s owner, Exelon, not with Pennsylvania legislators failing to enact a bailout in time to meet Exelon’s deadline, the group Citizens Against Nuclear Bailouts said in a statement issued May 8.

“Exelon Generation has made a business decision to begin the process of ending nuclear generation operations at Three Mile Island rather than invest the corporation’s billions of dollars in profits to support the plant, community and its employees,” said CANB, which describes itself as a “diverse coalition of Pennsylvania citizens’ groups, power generators, and energy, business and manufacturing associations.”

“This decision was made in their boardroom, where it belongs,” CANB said. “Exelon should never have held their employees and the community hostage as it demanded a bailout from Pennsylvania ratepayers and lawmakers.”

Exelon in its statement issued May 8 announcing the closure of TMI said that Exelon will keep working with the state Legislature to enact reforms the company says are needed to preserve the four other nuclear plants in Pennsylvania.

Legislation was introduced in the state House, by Rep. Tom Mehaffie, R-Lower Swatara Township, and in the Senate that would require electric utilities to purchase credits to provide economic support for TMI and other nuclear plants in Pennsylvania.

The legislation would add nuclear to the list of 16 sources of renewable energy in the state, including wind and solar, from which electric utilities in Pennsylvania are already required to purchase electricity.

Supporters say that nuclear should be added to the list, to compensate nuclear for generating 93 percent of all carbon-free energy that is produced in Pennsylvania.

Several public hearings were held on Mehaffie’s legislation in the House Consumer Affairs Committee — the last being on May 6. However, the committee never scheduled a vote on the proposal.

Likewise, a committee vote was never scheduled on the Senate legislation introduced by Sen. Ryan Aument, R-Lancaster.

In its statement, CANB said that the group will continue to oppose “an unwarranted nearly half-billion dollar ratepayer-funded corporate handout from lawmakers in the Capitol.”

“Lawmakers should continue to reject this attempt at a corporate cash grab being led by three out-of-state corporations projected to make more than $1 billion in profits in Pennsylvania in 2018 and 2019,” CANB said, referring to Exelon, FirstEnergy Solutions and Talen Energy.

FirstEnergy has said it will shut down its Beaver Valley nuclear power plant in western Pennsylvania in 2021, unless the state enacts the reforms sought by Exelon.

Experts still consider the Beaver Valley plant to be profitable.

Of the five nuclear plants in Pennsylvania, TMI is the only one not making a profit — supporting arguments from CANB and other opponents that the legislative relief is an unnecessary bailout that will lead to higher electricity costs for consumers and businesses.