Hundreds of Penn. union members rallied on the state capitol steps to save clean energy jobs Monday. The legislature did not act in time to save Three Mile Island, but eight more units still hang in the balance.

Update: Exelon CEO Chris Crane announced Wednesday that the Three Mile Island Generating Station would close Sept. 30. The company, he said, did not believe that Pennsylvania would pass legislation to keep the plant viable before company’s June 1 deadline to purchase fuel.

Third District International Vice President Mike Welsh said it was dark day.

“This closure will be like a death for hundreds of working families,” he said. “It’s just crazy to watch the lights go out on a safe, affordable, reliable source of carbon-free energy when we are spending billions everywhere else to build it. And all because we are short on time.”

The company said staffing at the plant would drop from several hundred to only 50 during the decommissioning process.

FirstEnergy, owners of the Perry, Davis Besse and Beaver Valley power stations issued a statement saying they were still committed to finding a market reform that would keep their plants open.

“I hope the announcement from Exelon focuses minds up in Harrisburg,” Welsh said. “A lot will be lost if Three Mile Island shuts down, but we have eight more nuclear units in the state worth saving that can still be saved.” 

Hundreds of people rallied on the Pennsylvania Capitol steps this week, urging the Legislature to save thousands of clean energy jobs – and fast.

The IBEW is asking all Pennsylvania. members to call on their legislators to support bills that would save the state’s only carbon-free baseload power generators, including Beaver Valley Power Station north of Pittsburgh.

The state has less than one month to pass a bill that would qualify the state’s largest producer of carbon-emission-free energy for its clean energy production standards.  On June 1, Exelon has to decide if it will purchase fuel for Three Mile Island, but their decision hinges on the inclusion of nuclear power within the Alternative Energy Production standards. Several bills under consideration, including House Bill 11 and Senate Bill 510, would do that and expand the amount of energy that must be provided by renewable or clean energy by 2021.

If nothing passes, the company will stop the refueling and begin decommissioning the plant. The owners of Beaver Valley’s two units said, without the law, they will follow and close their plant next year.

“It seems obvious. Nuclear power not only produces more carbon-free energy than anything else in the state, it has done so decade after decade, safely, affordably and reliably,” said Third District International Vice President Mike Welsh.

HB 11 would expand the kinds of energy that qualify for the state’s Alternative Energy Power Standard and expand the percentage of clean power that utilities must buy. Under current rules, local utilities have to buy a18 percent of their power from either tier one – renewables, including wind and solar – or tier two producers. Tier two consists mainly of biomass, primarily captured methane emissions from landfills, or coal ash, a byproduct of coal-fired power generation.

The House bill creates a third tier for nuclear power, the only 100 percent reliable producer of carbon-free power. It would also require utilities to get at least 50 percent of their supply from the three tiers by 2021, increasing demand for all clean energy producers.

But the bills are running into trouble, Welsh said. Representatives of other energy producers are demanding changes to improve their market share, and consumer advocates are worried it will increase costs.

“It is launching a larger debate, which is fine; we welcome all wider conversations about making sure the utility industry works for Pennsylvania, but the nuclear question has a real deadline,” Welsh said. “If one of these plants go down, it has a ripple effect throughout the economy. There will be a loss of good jobs, a loss of tax base, and where will the clean energy come from? If they do nothing, everyone suffers.”

 Nuclear energy powers more than 5.5 million homes in Pennsylvania, far more than solar and wind, said Utility Department Director Donnie Colston. He does accept that consumer costs might rise a dollar or two a month, but he wants everyone to keep that in perspective.

“If you think keeping carbon-free power is expensive, try letting it wither away,” he said. “How much would it cost to replace? If you did find money for thousands of solar panels and turbines, where would you do it, and how long would permitting take? If these plants close, in the meantime, what will we replace it with?”

Statewide, the five nuclear plants – three of which are represented by the IBEW – support more than 16,000 jobs and $4.5 billion in economic activity according to Welsh. When a nuclear plant closes down, it has the same effect as the shutdown of an auto plant.

“Schools lose. The tax base loses. Restaurants and stores lose. Towns lose. Working families either move down the economic ladder or move away. We saw what happened to Flint when GM moved out. The same thing will happen if Beaver Valley or Three Mile Island get mothballed,” he said.

One potential avenue for compromise would be for Legislators to insert claw-back protections for consumers, Welsh said. If a company closes a plant, it would have to return any money it made selling power under the proposed law.

“I have confidence the legislative process can benefit everyone. But time is short, and we have to make ourselves heard,” Welsh said.

He encouraged every Pennsylvania IBEW member across every branch to reach out to their state representative and senator. The switchboard at the Capitol is 717-772-9130.

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