Pennsylvania opponents of nuclear bailouts organize early

Pennsylvania legislators have not yet formalized a plan to assist the state’s financially struggling nuclear plants, but opposition to even the hint of a bailout is uniting the natural gas industry, other power plant operators, major manufacturers, and an advocacy organization for people aged 50 and older.

Citizens Against Nuclear Bailouts — whose 17 member organizations and companies so far include the Marcellus Shale Coalition, the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association, the Pennsylvania Chemical Industry Council and AARP — said Tuesday that they oppose any relief for the nuclear power industry that would raise electricity rates for consumers.

Last month, legislators from both parties and both chambers of the General Assembly announced they had formed a nuclear caucus to promote the state’s five nuclear power stations and to explore ways to ensure their survival as part of Pennsylvania’s diverse energy mix. The caucus now includes 73 members, but legislators are early in their exploration of the issues and have not yet decided on a strategy.

Jake Smeltz, chief of staff for Sen. Ryan Aument, a Lancaster County Republican and one of the caucus leaders, said the issues raised by the new coalition are timely and important, but he said, “We don’t even know what we’re debating yet.”

Nuclear plants, like coal-fired power plants, are struggling to compete in deregulated markets where low natural gas prices are pushing down the price of electricity, sometimes below what it costs to generate it.

Ohio-based FirstEnergy Corp. has said it plans to retire or sell its Beaver Valley nuclear power station in Shippingport next year. Chicago-based Exelon, which operates three of Pennsylvania’s nuclear plants, is leading the push for a Pennsylvania version of deals reached in Illinois and New York to subsidize nuclear stations so they don’t retire their baseload, carbon-free electricity early. Ohio is considering similar legislation.

FirstEnergy spokeswoman Jennifer Young said current market rules do not recognize nuclear’s total value, and establishing a mechanism that reflects that value “is in the best interest of Pennsylvania consumers and communities.”

Citizens Against Nuclear Bailouts isn’t waiting for Pennsylvania lawmakers to draft a bill. It is ready with a Twitter handle — @NoNukeBailout — and a petition that says, “Together, we can nuke the bailout.”

Steve Kratz, a spokesman for the coalition, said that in order to make the nuclear industry competitive, somebody else is going to end up paying for it. “I just don’t see how they do that without some cost increase for consumers,” he said.

Laura Legere:

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