On November 29, 2018, the Pennsylvania General Assembly’s Nuclear Energy Caucus (“NEC”) released the “Bicameral Nuclear Energy Caucus Report” (“Report”) that details the NEC’s findings on nuclear energy issues during the 2017-2018 Legislative Session.  The Report finds that Pennsylvania’s five nuclear plants provide numerous benefits, including supporting jobs, providing zero-emissions energy, moderating electricity prices, and ensuring grid resilience and reliability.[1]  As a result, to avoid adverse “employment, economic, and environmental impacts associated with the premature closures” of Pennsylvania’s nuclear facilities, the Report suggests that Pennsylvania has four options to determine the future of its nuclear industry:[2]

  1. Do nothing and leave Pennsylvania’s clean energy resources, including its nuclear plants, on a trajectory to early retirement – effectively allowing PJM to dictate the mix of resources serving Pennsylvania.
  2. Modify AEPS (or establish a ZEC program) to put nuclear generation on equal footing with other zero-emission electric generation resources in Pennsylvania.
  3. Modify AEPS (or establish a ZEC program) with a “safety valve” mechanism that (depending on the outcome of the FERC proceeding) would allow Pennsylvania to adopt a new capacity construct proposed by FERC that is designed to accommodate state programs to support preferred generation resources.
  4. Establish a Pennsylvania carbon pricing program.

Despite the detail in the report, several questions remain unanswered and issues remain unaddressed:

  1. The Report does not specify the amount of subsidies that nuclear generators should receive. Any policy decision must include an analysis of the costs to consumers and the potential impact on employment and investment in Pennsylvania.
  2. The Report discusses testimony from a portion of the stakeholders (e.g., the nuclear industry, environmental advocates, and organized labor coalitions), but groups that serve as “watchdogs” to ensure that consumers’ costs and interests are considered by the legislature (e.g., the Pennsylvania Energy Consumer Alliance, the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association, AARP, etc.) were not invited to testify before the NEC. By doing so, the NEC omitted a key stakeholder group that has a different perspective about the potential costs and pitfalls of “saving” the nuclear industry.
  3. The Report relies on a Brattle Group study to support the assertion that nuclear generators moderate electricity prices, thus providing $788 million in reductions to the energy costs of Pennsylvania’s consumers. However, that study assumes that there is no replacement of the retiring nuclear capacity with new generation.  Within the last three years, sufficient natural gas generation has been constructed (or is under construction) to match the entire Pennsylvania nuclear fleet, including those facilities that are not retiring (Susquehanna, Peach Bottom, and Limerick).  In December 2018 alone, Tenaska is scheduled to begin operation of a 925 MW plant in Westmoreland County.
  4. The Report summarily dismisses the fact that consumers paid $10 billion for stranded cost to the generation owners, without recognizing that those subsidies were calculated over the expected lifetime of the project. Once those payments were made, ratepayers were not expected to bear the financial risk that the plants could close.  Providing additional ratepayer subsidies is reneging on the bargain.
  5. Nuclear plants are not “prematurely” retiring – they are retiring because they cannot compete in the market. This is a natural effect of competitive market forces.  Non-competitive fuel sources (e.g., coal, inefficient gas, etc.) should retire from the market while stronger resources prevail.  Any attempt to interfere with these natural market sources will interfere with price signals and thus impact current and future investment in replacement generation.
  6. The Report makes errant assumptions (e.g., assuming that all Pennsylvania nuclear generators will retire) and misstates PJM’s conclusion in its fuel security study, which is still ongoing.

 

We are continuing to review the Report and will provide further updates.  In the interim, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact David Kleppinger (dkleppinger@mcneeslaw.com), Pam Polacek (ppolacek@mcneeslaw.com), Kathy Pape (kpape@mcneeslaw.com), Kathy Bruder (kbruder@mcneeslaw.com), or Aly Hylander (ahylander@mcneeslaw.com).

[1] https://nuclearenergy.pasenategop.com/pennsylvanias-bipartisan-nuclear-energy-caucus-releases-report-detailing-impacts-of-losing-the-states-nuclear-industry-and-provides-options-for-taking-action-in-2019/

[2] Report, p. 30.