Monday, April 8, 2019

Supporters, Opponents Of Nuclear Power Bill Get Their Talking Points On Record At First House Hearing

On April 8, opponents and supporters of House Bill 11 (Mehaffie-R- Lancaster) adding nuclear power plants to the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards got the chance to put their main talking points on record at the first of 4 hearings by the House Consumer Affairs Committee on the legislation.
The panel supporting the legislation, included: former Gov. Tom Ridge; Mike Pries, Dauphin County Commissioner; Steve Brame, PA Rural Electric Association; and David Griffing, FirstEnergy Solutions.  Additional written testimony was provided by:  Talen Energy Corporation.
The panel opposing the bill included: Kevin Sunday, PA Chamber Of Business & Industry; Glen Thomas, former Chair Public Utility Commission; Todd Snitchler, American Petroleum Institute; and Desiree Hung, AARP.
Here are some highlights from the hearing that weren’t part of the regular talking points--
Gov. Ridge said this legislation was about the future of electricity generation in Pennsylvania and whether the state should rely on one or two sources for generation and dismiss the one source that accounts for 93 percent of the carbon free energy in the state.
From a national security point of view, Gov. Ridge said the margin of vulnerability on energy security expands when you reduce the number of sources of energy, adding he has always been in favor of all energy sources, as well as competitive electricity markets.
[Note: Gov. Ridge signed the law creating competitive electricity and generation markets in 1996.]
Gov. Ridge also agreed with the position the federal government should be doing its job and address this issue, but they are not likely to act in time and that’s why the states have to act.  “We need to preserve our existing assets.”
Glen Thomas, former Chair of the Public Utility Commission, said House Bill 11 was a “competition killer.”  He said if the bill was adopted, the General Assembly would be mandating where electric ratepayers had to buy 68 percent of their electricity, and up to 100 percent under one provision of the bill.
“[This bill] is a full reintroduction of a command and control energy policy that Pennsylvania worked so very hard to get past,” said Thomas.
“There has been no compelling economic analysis that shows any nuclear plant in Pennsylvania other than Three Mile Island is in imminent danger of closing,” said Thomas.
Thomas said Pennsylvania ratepayers have already paid nuclear plant owners $8.6 billion in so-called stranded costs as part of the transition to a competitive electricity market in 1996 and the years following.
He said if the objective is to address carbon pollution, the General Assembly can do it without destroying Pennsylvania’s competitive energy market.
“Pennsylvania has historically regulated pollution from power generators by directly regulating the pollutant at the source or putting a price of the problematic pollution,” said Thomas.  “If the General Assembly is motivated to address carbon, then it should have a thoughtful discussion similar to the ones had with other pollutants from the power industry and develop a regulatory strategy that does not destroy 20 years of hard work to create a competitive electricity market.”
Thomas urged the Committee to take a “go slow approach” and look at the existing Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Program because it frequently is not directing money to the types of energy sources it is assumed to support many of which produce carbon.
He said many electricity ratepayers are choosing renewable and traditionally clean energy resources in a competitive electricity market already.
Thomas said local impacts of power plant closures are real and can best be addressed through other means.  Other states have considered legislative packages addressed at the transitioning of communities that hosted retiring power plants and Pennsylvania should do the same.
[Note: Even though dozens of coal-fired power plants closed in Pennsylvania over the last 10 years affecting thousands of jobs, the General Assembly did not address that issue.]
Steve Brame, PA Rural Electric Association, said they support House Bill 11 because the Association invested in the Susquehanna Nuclear Power Plant in Luzerne County.  The Association owns 10 percent of the plant, but it supplies 60 percent of the power needs of Association ratepayers.
In response to a question, Brame said the Association ratepayers do not now pay for the existing clean energy credits under the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards because they are exempt.  They would also be exempt from paying the new fee in House Bill 11, but would benefit from the payments because they are a nuclear power plant owner.  
All other electric ratepayers are now paying under the existing AEPS and would pay for the new payments under House Bill 11.
Debra Raggio from Talen Energy [owner of Susquehanna Nuclear Plant] said the $500 million a year payment to nuclear power plants in House Bill 11 is not based whether a plant needs the funding.  It is based on buying an attribute-- carbon free energy generation. She said Talen would not have supported the bill if it was just a bailout based on need.
Desiree Hung, AARP Pennsylvania, said House Bill 11 is a “proposal to impose a significant new surcharge on Pennsylvania’s electricity ratepayers that would benefit the states nuclear power providers.
“In fact, when you take a close look at the proposal, the bailout plan is nothing more than a way to increase the profitability of our state’s aging nuclear power plants, at the expense of electricity customers.
“It’s important to note that other states have ignored a bailout for nuclear power providers with no ill effects on their electricity market. States including California, Vermont, Michigan and Wisconsin have seen some of their nuclear plants close without a bail out and have experienced no impact on reliability.
“PJM Interconnection, which runs the 13 state electrical grid for this region, has already completed its own analysis here and concluded that lack of a bailout plan here in Pennsylvania will not impact the reliability of our regional electricity grid.
“Currently, four out of five nuclear power generators in Pennsylvania are profitable – and are projected to make a total profit of more than $600 million this year alone. In addition, those generating stations are clearing the capacity PJM market which means too that they will remain profitable for at least the next 5 years.”
Raised briefly, but not discussed, was the issue of how the 7,560 metric tons of high-level radioactive waste fuel now stored at Pennsylvania’s nuclear power plants would be dealt with if one or more nuclear power plants closed.
Also not addressed were federal and state proposals to have power plant owners pay what amounts to a host community fee to communities around former nuclear power plant sites where spent fuel is being stored to deal with continuing safety and emergency response issues.
Exelon filed a required decommissioning plan with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on April 5 saying it would not begin dismantling Three Mile Island if it did close for 55 years.  Spent radioactive fuel would be moved to a new storage facility onsite by the end of 2022.
Click Here for copies of written testimony and to watch a video of the hearing.
Future Hearings
The tentative agendas for the 3 other hearings scheduled in the House include--
-- April 15: Electric power generators and resources, Room 140 Main Capitol, 9:00;
-- April 29: Electric utilities, suppliers, consumers, organized labor, Room 205 Ryan Building, Noon; and
-- May 6: Regulators of the electric market, industry, Room 140 Main Capitol, 11:00.
Agendas are subject to change, but indicate the types of witnesses the Committee intents to hear from on this issue.
Rep. Brad Roae (R-Crawford) serves as Majority Chair of the Committee and can be contacted by calling 717-787-2353 or sending email to:   Rep. Robert Matzie (D-Beaver) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by calling 717-787-4444 or sending email to:
(Photo: Dry cask storage system for spent radioactive fuel at decommissioned Connecticut Yankee Nuclear Power Plant, Nuclear Regulatory Commission.)
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