PowerSource Voice: Nuclear energy plays a part in reaching carbon emissions reductions

When the Environmental Protection Agency recently issued the Clean Power Plan, which is a new set of rules to reduce carbon emissions from America’s power plants, the agency made sure to credit U.S. nuclear plants with playing a key role in contributing to our clean energy future.

Just last month, the EPA held a series of hearings for public comments on the proposed rules, including one in Pittsburgh. As we talk about reducing carbon emissions in Pennsylvania, we should keep in mind the important contributions of nuclear power in our state.

First, let me put a fine point on the facts and figures that make the nuclear plants in Pennsylvania so valuable. Pennsylvania’s nuclear energy facilities provide more than one-third of our state’s electricity and almost 5,000 high-skills jobs each year. They also bolster the state economy; touching or benefiting 4,150 Pennsylvania businesses. And these plants do all of this while emitting zero carbon into the atmosphere, preventing the emissions of more than 60 million metric tons of carbon each year in Pennsylvania.

Nuclear energy is therefore critical to ensuring that Pennsylvania and the nation can achieve a cleaner energy future.

The nuclear plants that operate in Pennsylvania are also the state’s most reliable sources of energy, operating at over a 90 percent capacity factor. This is important when it comes to economic development, as reliable baseload energy sources are necessary to maintain business operations in our state, and to draw new ones. 

And, as seen in last winter’s polar vortex, nuclear was able to continue generating electricity at times of extreme weather, when other sources were not. In short, to keep the lights on in our state in both the long-term and short-term, we need nuclear as part of our energy mix.

Additionally, nuclear energy plants are economic forces for the communities in which they operate. They contribute significantly to state and local tax bases — more than $45 million per year, on average, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute. These plants have annual payrolls of about $40 million, making them the most employment-intensive generation source here in Pennsylvania.

These plants are thus critical to maintaining and bolstering Pennsylvania’s diverse energy supply, economic growth, and employment and cannot be discounted if our state is serious about achieving its carbon emissions reduction goals. But despite this, nuclear energy plants  — both here in Pennsylvania and across the country — face economic headwinds right now that are threatening their continued operation.

This much is clear: we must work to preserve Pennsylvania’s nuclear industry, and the many benefits it provides, for future generations. As we engage in a statewide discussion of how to reduce emissions to comply with the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, I hope that everyone with an interest in our energy future begins to think about how we might make sure the benefits of our existing nuclear energy plants are kept for generations to come.

Michael Krancer served as secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection under Gov. Tom Corbett and is now a partner and head of the energy industry team at Blank Rome LLP in the firm’s Philadelphia office. He is on Twitter @MikeKrancer.

To contribute to PowerSource Voice, a regular feature offering insight and opinion on energy subjects, contact Associate Business Editor Teresa F. Lindeman at tlindeman@post-gazette.com

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