FirstEnergy asking for nuclear help

Nuclear power plants are costlier to operate nowadays than gas-fired plants and must sell their energy in the current unregulated market at a loss, so FirstEnergy and the two other firms that generate nuclear power in Pennsylvania are lobbying lawmakers for help to become competitive again, a FirstEnergy spokeswoman told Logan Township supervisors last week.

The supervisors will consider a resolution later this month to support that lobbying effort.

It makes good sense to preserve nuclear power because it’s carbon-free, said FirstEnergy’s Bev Green.

Nuclear is also a critical part of a diverse power-generation menu, she said.

The five nuclear plants in Pennsylvania — First­Energy’s Beaver Valley Power Station in Beaver County, Exelon’s Limerick Generating Station in Montgomery County, Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station in York County and Three Mile Island Nuclear Station in Dauphin County; along with Talen Energy’s Susquehanna Steam Electric Station in Luzerne County — generate 38 percent of the state’s electricity, but 93 percent of its carbon-free power, according to a model resolution that Green presented to the supervisors.

Collectively, the plants “avoid” 37 million metric tons of carbon emissions and $260 million in air pollution costs per year, according to the resolution.

Gas is cheap now, but if nuclear plants disappear, and gas becomes the only significant alternative and grows radically more costly, it could create a problem, she said.

It’s not easy to bring nuclear plants back online once they’re closed, she said.

Three Mile Island is slated to close in 2019, she indicated.

Unlike wind and solar power, nuclear plants generate power irrespective of the weather, according to the resolution.

The type of assistance that might be forthcoming from lawmakers isn’t clear yet, Green told the supervisors.

One possible means of help would be a point system in recognition that nuclear power is carbon-free, she said.

Wind and solar power receive such subsidies, she indicated.

Federal subsidies for renewable energy in 2013 totaled $13.2 billion, according to the Energy Infor­mation Admin­istration, as reported by the Institute for Energy Research.

The General Assembly might not be the only venue for assistance, according to Green.

While New York provided help through legislation, Illinois did it through its public utility commission, she said.

Ohio is considering legislation, she said.

Connecticut and Rhode Island “are where we are,” she said.

At least one supervisor was a bit skeptical.

“I appreciate that we need diversity,” said Ed Frontino. “My concern is that if the state subsidizes (the nuclear power industry), it will be coming out of our pockets.”

Nuclear power was historically the lowest or next-to-lowest-cost power and didn’t need subsidies until recently, Green said.

Asked by township solicitor Larry Clapper where the FirstEnergy plants store their waste, Green said on site.

The storage actually takes up surprisingly little room, she said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.