Nuclear Energy Caucus: Testimony Highlights Environmental Impacts Of Premature Shutdown Of Nuclear Power Plants

The bipartisan Senate House Nuclear Energy Caucus Tuesday heard from state and national environmental groups on the impacts the pending shut down of nuclear power plants in Pennsylvania could have on meeting air quality standards and carbon-free electricity generation goals.

Doug Vine, Senior Fellow, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, said research shows a diverse energy mix of renewables, nuclear power, fossil fuels with carbon capture and pipeline natural gas and liquid fuels decarbonization is the most cost effective ways of reducing U.S. greenhouse emissions by 80 percent by mid-century.

Vine said nuclear power plants emit no sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide or particulate matter air emissions. He said the loss of nuclear power is most often being replaced with coal and natural gas generation with the corresponding increase in air pollution emissions.

He noted California is replacing prematurely retiring nuclear plants with development of renewable energy sources. But, he said it would take a decade of clean energy development just to get back to where they were in terms of reduced air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

Vine said the Center promotes expansion of renewable and clean energy sources along with preserving the existing carbon-free nuclear power plants.

He said he favors the Zero Emission Credit approach adopted by other states, including Illinois, New York, Connecticut and New Jersey.

Rama Zakaria, Senior Manager, Regulatory Policy & Analysis, Environmental Defense Fund, noted 14 Pennsylvania counties received an F in air quality earlier this year from the American Lung Association and 11 counties are designated nonattainment areas for one or more pollutants-- ozone, sulfur dioxide and particulates.

Zakaria said Pennsylvania already has 44 percent carbon free electric generation, with nuclear and renewables in Pennsylvania.  Losing nuclear power plants would be a significant setback.

Pennsylvania is the third largest emitter of greenhouse emissions in the country and has already seen impacts from climate change.

Pennsylvania should set a carbon reduction target by mid-century to give the market clear signals so the market can drive development of the most cost-effective solutions.

Zakaria also expressed support for a specific carbon limit for electric generation and the creation of a credit program to put a price on carbon emissions to drive efficient solutions in this sector in particular.

Davitt Woodwell, President, PA Environmental Council, said putting a price on carbon would spur needed competition in the energy market and reduce greenhouse gas emissions

It could also help put Pennsylvania’s beleaguered nuclear power industry on a sound financial footing at a time when nuclear energy has a vital role to play in transitioning the state’s energy portfolio toward decarbonization.

“We believe that the loss of today’s nuclear fleet would be a terrible blow to the progress already made in reducing Pennsylvania’s contribution to climate change, and would hamstring all of our combined efforts moving forward,” Woodwell said. “We also believe there are approaches that can be developed to allow for the continued operation of today’s nuclear fleet while also allowing other forms of energy generation to prosper.”

Woodwell noted greenhouse gas emissions have already dropped in Pennsylvania by 30 percent due to the switch of power generation from coal to natural gas.

Over two days in March 2017, state- and national-level experts meeting in Pittsburgh identified a range of economic, technological, and policy solutions that could realistically facilitate reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 90 percent over the next thirty years.

Consensus soon crystallized around four concepts-- energy efficiency, grid modernization, carbon capture, and carbon pricing-- which offered the greatest potential for reducing emissions while also meeting the Commonwealth’s energy needs and creating new opportunities for economic growth.

“In its simplest form,” Woodwell said, “carbon pricing sends market signals that there is a preference for lower emissions, and incents the production of energy with those lower emissions.”

As a market-based solution, Woodwell added, carbon pricing is “technology-agnostic” and does not favor any one energy source over another, focusing instead on outcomes.

“Moving forward to a deeply decarbonized energy future means including a wide variety of generation options optimized to reduce carbon emissions to the greatest extent possible as soon as possible,” Woodwell said. “In our view and for varying lengths of time, and with a number of different economic drivers, this will include renewables, natural gas, coal, and nuclear.”

Various carbon pricing models have already been advanced in the U.S., including cap and trade programs like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), renewable portfolio standards like the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards (AEPS), and fees assessed on energy production and consumption.

PEC is currently studying these and other approaches with the goal of developing a proposal tailored to Pennsylvania by the end of 2018.

“The effectiveness of any pricing program depends on a number of variables that need to be closely considered and modeled to understand its impacts on generation mix, energy prices, consumer impacts, and greenhouse gas emissions,” Woodwell said.

Despite the complexity of these calculations, currently available evidence suggests the potential for a wide range of economic and environmental benefits from the carbon-pricing approach.

Citing a recent RGGI report, Woodwell noted that “even a modest price on emissions through a trading regime can reduce emissions, create jobs, provide positive economic returns, and generate revenues for state programs.”

Click Here for a copy of PEC’s written testimony.

Steve Clemmer, Director of Energy Research & Analysis, Climate and Energy Policy, Union of Concerned Scientists, also supported a carbon pricing system for energy generation to promote renewable energy, energy efficiency and continued nuclear power plant operation as a carbon-free energy source.

Clemmer noted Pennsylvania is now behind in adopting an up-to-date Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Program to require purchase of renewable energy by electric distribution companies.  He urged an update of the AEPs as part of a package of changes to achieve deep decarbonization goals.

He said Pennsylvania is also behind many other states in encouraging energy efficiency measures. 

He added both renewable energy and energy efficiency has a significant benefit to the economy in creating jobs.  He said there were an estimated 70,000 total clean energy jobs in Pennsylvania in 2016 and specifically 55,000 jobs in the energy efficiency sector.

[Note: A new report issued Tuesday found more than 86,000 Pennsylvanians work in clean energy and energy efficiency jobs.]

Clemmer also said any nuclear plants that receive support in programs like those adopted by Illinois, New Jersey and others should also have strong safety records and enhanced dry cask storage of spent nuclear fuel storage.

In response to a question by Sen. Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster), a co-chair of the Caucus, about the relative merits of different strategies, like Zero Emission Credits or carbon pricing at the state or federal level, Woodwell said different alternatives like that can be modeled to give the General Assembly more facts on which to make decisions.

Both Woodwell and Clemmer said they do not see early action at the federal level to address these issues.

Clemmer also said at some point there will a need to figure out how to replace nuclear power plants with carbon free sources because some plants will be reaching the 80-year old milestone starting in 2030.

In response to a question from Rep. Matzie (D-Allegheny), Clemmer said he does not see a grid emergency and problems with grid resiliency as a result of closing coal and nuclear power plants over time with the reserve capacity grid operators have now.

Click Here to watch a video of the hearing (when posted) and written testimony.

Brattle Group Report

A study released Monday by The Brattle Group on the air quality impact of shutting down all 5 nuclear power plants in Pennsylvania found it would cause an increase of 4,136 tons in nitrogen oxide emissions from likely fossil fuel replacement generation.

The generating capacity of the two nuclear power plants in Pennsylvania that have announced they will close is 2.652 gigawatts-- FirstEnergy’s Beaver Valley Power Plant generates 1,815 megawatts and Exelon’s Three Mile Island generates 837 megawatts.

Since June 1, 2017, the PJM Interconnection Wednesday said Pennsylvania added 1.247 gigawatts of electric generation and lost 33 megawatts to generator deactivations as part of its summer readiness report..

The U.S. Energy Information Administration in May projected 5.2 gigawatts of new natural gas-fired power generation capacity will come online in Pennsylvania during 2018 alone.

Senators Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster) and John Yudichak (D-Luzerne) along with Representatives Becky Corbin (R-Chester) and Rob Matzie (D-Allegheny) serve as co-chairs of the Nuclear Energy Caucus.

For more information on past hearings and actions, visit the Senate-House Nuclear Energy Caucus webpage.


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PJM: Capacity Performance Rules Improved Generator Results, Less For Coal, Oil

Related Stories:

PA Environmental Council: Putting A Price On Carbon Would Spur Energy Competition, Help Nuclear Power Plants

PUC Releases Summer Readiness Reports From Electric Utilities, PA Added 1.247 Gigawatts Of New Electric Generation

Bill Would Create Commission To Review, Approve Coal, Nuclear Power Plant Closures

More Than 86,000 Pennsylvanians Work In Clean Energy, Energy Efficiency Jobs

Nuclear Energy Caucus Hears Testimony On Jobs, Environmental Impacts Of Closing Nuclear Power Plants

Nuclear Energy Caucus Hearing: The Federal Government Is Not Going To Act In Time To Save Nuclear Power Plants

Exelon: Three Mile Island did Not Clear PJM Capacity Auction

FirstEnergy Nuclear Power Plants Fail To Clear PJM Power Auction

PJM Asks FERC To Address Utility Subsidy Requests For Aging Coal, Nuclear Plants

U.S. EIA: PA To Add 5.2 Gigawatts Of Natural Gas-Fired Electric Generating Capacity In 2018

[Posted: June 19, 2018]


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