Public hearings slated for nuclear subsidy bill

State Rep. Thomas Mehaffie, R-Dauphin County (at podium), introduced legislation Monday, March 11 that would effectively add nuclear energy into the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act. (Photo by: Lindsay VanAsdalan)

State lawmakers are scheduled to begin vetting legislation that would subsidize nuclear energy providers in Pennsylvania to the tune of $500 million.

Energy giant Exelon Generation is boosting HB 11 as a means to keep one of its plants, Three Mile Island, solvent. The company’s other three plants in the state are profitable, officials have said.

The House Consumer Affairs Committee has scheduled a series of public hearings — each with different panelists — beginning Monday, April 8. The committee plans to hold four meetings: April 8, April 15, April 29 and May 6.

HB 11 was introduced March 11 and referred to the Consumer Affairs Committee the following day.

The bill offers a subsidy that's necessary for the livelihood of some nuclear plant operators, backers have said.

"If we fail to act and these plants close, our consumers will be paying higher rates in the long term than if we passed legislation and keep them open," state Rep. Thomas Mehaffie, R-Dauphin County, said when he announced the legislation.

Its passage would mean nuclear power plants — along with renewable sources of energy that do not produce any carbon emissions — would be eligible for a state subsidy through a credit system. 

Under current law — the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act of 2004 — electricity suppliers must purchase credits from alternative sources that are environmentally beneficial, but carbon-free producers are not included.

An updated law would add a new tier, stating that electricity distributors must purchase credits from carbon-free producers that equal 50 percent of their sales each year.

"The cost of doing nothing is $4.6 billion dollars," Mehaffie said, including $788 million annually in higher electricity costs to consumers, but the cost of the bill is about $500 million.

And that cost would come back on ratepayers, who would see a typical bill increase of $1.77 per month with the AEPS credit.

Three Mile Island is one such plant counting on the bill's passage. The Dauphin County plant's Unit 1 reactor is scheduled to close in September without legislative action.

A military aircraft flies near the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station viewed from the borough of Royalton, Dauphin County, Friday, March 15, 2019. The plant's Unit 2 reactors have been shut down since the March 28,1979, partial meltdown. Bill Kalina photo

State Sen. Ryan Aument, R-Lancaster County, had voiced his plans for a companion bill back in late February, but a spokeswoman for the Senate majority leadership said Friday that legislation has yet to be introduced in the upper chamber. 

In an email, Jenn Kocher, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, said there had been no discussion yet within the GOP caucus about the bill.

Gauging support from caucus members is not something Corman would do this early in the process, she said.

"We typically do that once a bill has been introduced then passed on to the full Senate for consideration from the appropriate committee," she wrote.

Aument did not return calls seeking comment.

More:Pa. bill would add nuclear power to alternative energy lists

More:Expected legislation might save Three Mile Island

Hearings: The first House committee public hearing will take place at 11 a.m. Monday, April 8, in Room 140 of the Capitol building, with panelists representing the nuclear power industry, the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, and Citizens Against Nuclear Bailouts coalition.

"It’s a very complex and technical piece of legislation," said Consumer Affairs Committee Chairman Brad Roae, so the committee planned on four hearings to allow members to get enough information to make informed decisions.

Roae said a lot of stakeholders will want the opportunity to weigh in, so each meeting will vary slightly in theme.

The following hearing, on Monday, April 15, will have panelists representing electric power generators and resources.

After a week's break, hearings will resume the next two Mondays — April 29 and May 6.

The April 29 hearing will represent electric utilities, suppliers and consumers as well as organized labor interests; the May 6 hearing will represent regulators of the electric market and industry.

A complete schedule of dates, times and locations for each hearing is available on the Pennsylvania General Assembly website under House upcoming committee meetings.

Roae said he doesn't have an estimate of how House members will vote but he has heard some comments from both sides.

"I’m waiting until after the hearing so I have a better idea of how things work," he said.