Cheap natural gas could do what the worst commercial nuclear power accident in U.S. history could not: put Three Mile Island out of business.
Three Mile Island’s owner, Exelon Corp., announced Tuesday that the plant that was the site of a terrifying partial meltdown in 1979 will close in 2019 unless the state of Pennsylvania comes to its financial rescue.
Nuclear power plants around the U.S. have been struggling in recent years to compete with generating stations that burn plentiful and inexpensive natural gas to produce electricity.
The Chicago-based energy company’s announcement came after what it called more than five years of losses at the single-reactor plant and Three Mile Island’s recent failure to be selected as a guaranteed supplier of power to the regional electric grid.
Exelon wants Pennsylvania to give nuclear power the kind of preferential treatment and premium payments that are extended to renewable forms of energy, such as wind and solar. It has not said how much it wants.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has made no commitment to a bailout. In a statement Tuesday, Wolf said he is concerned about layoffs at Three Mile Island and open to discussions about the future of nuclear power. Exelon employs 675 people at the plant, whose license does not expire until 2034.
Nuclear bailouts have won approval in Illinois and New York, but the potential for higher utility bills in Pennsylvania is generating resistance from rival energy companies, manufacturers and consumer advocates.
David Hughes, president of the Pittsburgh-based consumer group Citizen Power, said the notion that nuclear power is clean energy, as the industry argues, is laughable.
“It’s a myth, and they’re trying any way they can to get more money out of ratepayers,” he said.
In addition to contending that nuclear power can help fight climate change better than gas or coal, Exelon and other energy companies have argued that their plants are big employers and sources of tax revenue.