Photos courtesy the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
FirstEnergy announced they were closing three of their nuclear plants including the two-unit Beaver Valley plant in western Pennsylvania.

For nearly three decades, energy consumers have been sending a clear message: they want clean, affordable and reliable power. Billions of dollars have been invested in scrubbing coal, switching to natural gas and building renewables.

Just days before announcing bankruptcy, FirstEnergy Solutions- a FirstEnergy subsidiary - announced the plants, including the Davis Besse plant near Toledo, Ohio, would close within the next two years.
Photos courtesy the Nuclear Regulatory Commission

But as the fracking revolution a decade ago sent natural gas prices plummeting, the energy market has had increasing trouble meeting all three customer demands.

Further evidence of that difficulty came in late March when FirstEnergy announced they would be shutting down two nuclear plants in Ohio – Davis Besse east of Toledo and Perry outside of Cleveland – and the Beaver Valley Nuclear complex west of Pittsburgh by 2021.

The utility said the price of energy did not justify keeping the plants open, but a new study released by Nuclear Matters, a coalition of pro-nuclear power organizations that includes the IBEW, warned that the costs to the economy and the environment of shuttering the plants could far outstrip the company’s losses.

Conducted by the Brattle Group, the report says the closures would destroy thousands of jobs, evaporating hundreds of millions in local and state taxes, raising electricity costs by billions and unleashing millions of tons of pollution.

“Nuclear power is the only way to tick the box on affordable, reliable, green energy,” said Utility Department Director Donnie Colston. “But the market is so skewed that we are about to build billions of dollars of renewables that vary with the wind and clouds with our right hand and with the other hand shut shop on billions of dollars of emission-free nuclear that we can rely on night and day. And how will we make up the generation? By spending even more on carbon-emitting fossil-fueled power stations.”

If they close, Davis Besse, Perry, Beaver Valley would join a morbid roll call of mothballed and retiring nuclear plants.

Before 2013, none of the 100 commercial nuclear plants in the U.S. closed because they didn’t make money; in just the last six years, including FirstEnergy’s plants, nearly one-fifth have either closed or announced future closures:


Nuclear Facility

Closure  Date

Fort Calhoun  (Neb)             

Closed: 10/24/16

Vermont Yankee (Vt.)

Closed: 12/29/14

San Onofre 2 & 3 (Calif.)

Closed: 6/12/13

Kewaunee (Wisc.)                

Closed: 5/7/13

Crystal River (Fla.)

Closed: 2/20/13


Nuclear Facility

Closure  Date

Oyster Creek (N.J.)

Scheduled to close: 10/1/18

Three Mile Island 1 (Penn.)

Scheduled to close: 5/1/19

Pilgrim (Mass.)

Scheduled to close: 6/1/19

Davis-Besse (Ohio)

Scheduled to close: 5/31/20

Indian Point 2 (N.Y.)

Scheduled to close: 4/30/20

Indian Point 3 (N.Y.)

Scheduled to close: 4/30/25

Perry (Ohio)

Scheduled to close: 5/31/21

Beaver Valley Unit 1 (Penn.)

Scheduled to close: 5/31/21

Beaver Valley Unit 2 (Penn.)

Scheduled to close: 10/31/21

Diablo Canyon 1 (Calif.)

Scheduled to close: 11/2/24

Diablo Canyon 2 (Calif.)

Scheduled to close: 8/26/25

“More than 3,000 highly skilled men and women are directly employed at these three sites, but if these plants close, the livelihoods of thousands more Ohio and Pennsylvania residents will disappear,” said International President Lonnie Stephenson. “Before regulators and lawmakers stand idly by and let this happen, they need to know the full cost of inaction.”

The Brattle report draws a grim picture.

Ohio’s gross domestic product will fall nearly $510 million a year, the study projects. If both Beaver Valley and nearby Three Mile Island close, Pennsylvania will take a $2 billion GDP loss and nearly 16,000 jobs will disappear.

Just in 2017, the four plants paid $540 million in state and local taxes.

A study by Nuclear Matters, a coalition of pro-nuclear power organizations that includes the IBEW, reported that the closure of the plants, including the Perry plant outside of Cleveland, would kill thousands of jobs, cost the economy hundreds of millions of dollars and significantly increase carbon dioxide and other emissions.
Photos courtesy the Nuclear Regulatory Commission

“Supporters of the closures say we will make it up with renewable energy construction, but those projects are already slowing down. If you blow a $500 million hole in the state budget, where do they think the increased investment is going to come from? Where do they think they’ll find the money to connect these imaginary wind farms to the grid?” Colston said. “You can’t build turbines with wishful thinking. You need money. And factories don’t run on promises for the future; they need power now.”

Equally worrying, Colston said, is the environmental toll the closures would unleash.

The four plants slated for closure – including Three Mile Island – provide 39 million megawatt hours of zero-emission energy each year.

The entire fleet of renewable generation built in the last 25 years in the 13-state PJM interconnection region – which includes all or part of Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia – only added up to 26 million MWh in 2017.

To replace the nuclear plants would require a massive buildout of fossil fuels plants. Keeping FirstEnergy’s plants open, Brattle found, would avoid over 21 million metric tons of CO2 emissions annually and more than 31,000 tons of criteria pollutants including Sulfur Dioxide, Nitrogen Oxide and other known carcinogens. The report’s authors estimated the total social cost of the emissions at more than $1 billion a year.

“In less than four years, the retirement of these four nuclear generators would undo the entire emissions benefits of all renewable generation investments made to date throughout the PJM region,” Colston said, quoting the report. “Gone and for what?”

Even if the development rate of new renewables was doubled – at a cost of nearly $2 billion a year-- it would still take until 2034 to restore the level of zero-emission generation that would result from maintaining the nuclear plants and continuing renewable growth at the current rate.

There is, Colston said, a way to avoid the pointless closure: follow the lead of Illinois and New York. Four nuclear plants in those states were slated to close, but the legislatures created Zero Emissions Credits that increased the value of energy generation that doesn’t contribute to global climate change.

The Fitzpatrick and Ginna plants in New York and Clinton and Quad Cities generating stations in Illinois were all scheduled for decommission by this summer, but all four are still operating thanks to the legislation.

“We all want clean energy and good jobs and we don’t need Sherlock Holmes to help us figure out how to get it: you pay the people providing it,” Stephenson said. “The crazy thing – and this report proves it —that unless Ohio and Pennsylvania act – is that they will end up paying billions more, losing thousands of jobs, and all they will get for their trouble is less reliable and more expensive power.”

No legislation has been proposed in Pennsylvania, but in Ohio a senate and a house bill have been proposed.

“Deregulation was built on a level playing field but now you have incentives for wind and solar and tax breaks and subsidies for natural gas but not for baseload,” said Toledo Local 245 Business Manager Larry Tscherne. “All we are asking for is fairness.”

Unfortunately, he said, the bills have stalled in committee and may stay there as the legislature turns its attention to the midterm elections in November.

“Right now, the legislature is more concerned with who will be elected than anything else,” he said. “They should remember that if they stand around and let this happen to Ohio and these jobs disappear, their jobs will too.”