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Math doesn't add up for TMI to stay open: Editorial

Posted 6/7/17

Exelon Corp. wants “needed policy reforms” to the state’s energy plan or the Three Mile Island Generating Station will close in the fall of 2019.

But here’s a fact: Policy reforms won’t …

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Math doesn't add up for TMI to stay open: Editorial


Exelon Corp. wants “needed policy reforms” to the state’s energy plan or the Three Mile Island Generating Station will close in the fall of 2019.

But here’s a fact: Policy reforms won’t make Three Mile Island run more efficiently.

That’s where the specter of March 28, 1979, the Unit 2 accident, continues to haunt our local nuclear plant. TMI has one unit. Other Exelon plants in Pennsylvania (Limerick and Peach Bottom) have two.

You do the math: Peach Bottom has 860 employees with a payroll of $84.2 million, and it generates 2,700 megawatts of power. Three Mile Island has about 675 employees with an annual payroll of about $60 million and generates about 850 megawatts of power.

There aren’t enough bills in the pens of the entire Legislature to close that gap.

This isn’t a reflection on the level at which the employees at TMI work, or that they aren’t working hard enough or don’t do a good job. It simply doesn’t take twice as many employees to operate twice as many nuclear reactor units. They aren’t going to start up another reactor at TMI, so what can be done?

When TMI goes to these yearly power auctions, it can’t compete because its cost-per-megawatt is skewed.

But those “needed policy reforms” sure would help out at Peach Bottom and Limerick, wouldn’t they?

Exelon could have come right out and said that it was closing TMI in 2019, because that’s what is likely to happen. Instead, company officials did a little buck-passing. “We will have to close TMI unless your legislators come through for us. So if TMI closes, it’s on them and not us.”

Politicians are an easy mark.

If you aren’t a fan of that company or TMI or nuclear power, we are sure that statement sounds like blackmail to you, an out-of-state company searching for a bailout or subsidies from the government (and us taxpayers) to stay afloat.

However, Exelon will tell you it is only searching for a level playing field with other green energy sources such as solar, wind and hydro.

“Despite producing 93 percent of the commonwealth’s emissions-free electricity and avoiding 37 million tons of carbon emissions — the equivalent of keeping 10 million cars off the road every year — nuclear power is not included in the state’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard,” the press release discussing the TMI closure stated. As a matter of comparison, there were only about 8.27 million cars registered with PennDOT in 2016.

The Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act of 2004 (AEPS) requires that 18 percent of the electricity supplied by Pennsylvania’s electric distribution companies and electric generation suppliers come from alternative energy resources by 2021. Just not nuclear.

Nuclear should be part of this portfolio. That’s not a matter of a bailout or a subsidy. It’s just good business.

As state Sen. Mike Folmer correctly told the Press & Journal, the state shouldn’t have its energy eggs in too few baskets. Yes, Marcellus Shale has helped lead to natural gas prices hitting very low levels (another challenge for the nuclear energy). But nothing is forever. Also, nuclear power in Pennsylvania creates much more energy than the other renewables that are more “trendy.” TMI alone generates more power than all the renewables combined in the state of Pennsylvania, TMI spokesman Dave Marcheskie told the Press & Journal.

This is business. We understand that. We are not trying to be cold-hearted as it relates to the 675 employees who work at TMI. These people have good-paying jobs and help fuel the local economy.

But math is math, and large corporations’ balance sheets have neither souls nor consciences.

Exelon is asking for something that legislatively is very difficult. Is it possible to change the energy portfolio in two years? Yes. But there is no legislation even being discussed at this point that would make any changes to the nuclear policy. State Rep. Tom Mehaffie told the Press & Journal that he doesn’t know of any concrete proposals that have been brought forth by Exelon for legislators to consider.

Closure of TMI will be a huge blow to the area — more than $1 million in state property taxes and more than $300,000 in local community giving each year eventually would go away. We don’t think this is an empty threat by Exelon. In fact, we would be surprised if TMI is open as 2020 starts.

This region has overcome closures before. Fifty-two years ago, officials were fighting to keep Olmsted Air Force Base open (See From the Vault on page B5). It closed in 1969, and Penn State Harrisburg and Harrisburg International Airport slowly but surely have grown in its place.

If TMI closes, it’s going to hurt. Yes, we have more than two years until it closes — two more years for it to be saved.

But we aren’t hopeful.