Millions on the line for neighboring municipalities if TMI closes, local officials say
LONDONDERRY — Local communities would lose hundreds of jobs and millions in tax revenue if Three Mile Island closed, officials said Tuesday night at a rally in support of state legislation that would keep it operational.
The rally's focus was on saving jobs, and about 100 community members — many of them from neighboring local governments — turned out to laud the Dauphin County nuclear plant's role in the regional economy. “We are now down to 38 days until June 1” said county Commissioner Mike Pries at the Sunset Golf Club, in Londonderry Township Tuesday, April 23.
Legislation in the state House and Senate, which would subsidize nuclear power through alternative energy credits, must be passed by then, or TMI-1 owner Exelon Generation will begin the plant's decommissioning process, the company has said.
Steve Mohr, chairman of the board for Conoy Township, in Lancaster County, which begins at the southern end of the island hosting TMI, said his board is solidly behind keeping the plant open.
Lancaster County has the highest number of employees at TMI, with more than 200 of the 675, he said.
Opponents of the legislation have called it a bailout, but that's not a problem for former Royalton Mayor Judy Oxenford, who said it would be like a borrowed investment in a good company.
Once TMI gets back on its feet, “let 'em pay a little bit back,” she said.
The plant has been instrumental in local communities, not just by providing jobs, but with charity work of about $300,000 a year, Pries said.
Oxenford runs the Royalton Senior Center, which relies heavily on volunteers and annual donations, including one from TMI each Christmas for about $2,500 to 5,000.
Londonderry would probably have to boost taxes, "which no one can afford," said township Supervisor Ron Kopp.
TMI accounts for about $1 million in annual tax revenue between Dauphin County, Lower Dauphin School District and Londonderry Township, he said.
The plant's effects ripple throughout the local economy, Pries said. For example, hundreds of skilled laborers regularly visit the plant for refueling, accounting for thousands of nights in local hotels, he said.
Among other reasons community members said they supported the plant were diversity of energy choices, stability for the grid and the market, safety and environmental benefits.
Ron Toole, a previous vice president of former TMI-2 owner GPU Nuclear and a member of the Clean Jobs for Pennsylvania coalition, said gas prices already fluctuate, and if nuclear plants go away, residents will see higher prices.
"You think out of the goodness of their hearts they’re gonna keep the price down?” he said.
Mike Davies, a Lower Swatara Township commissioner, said it's noteworthy that the subsidy's most vocal opponents represent energy producers in direct competition with Exelon's nuclear facility, particularly natural gas and oil.
Another member of the coalition, and a former nuclear instrumentation and control worker, Pete Snyder, said TMI does more for the environment than all of the state's wind and solar energy combined.
It would take 53,000 acres of solar panels to get an equivalent output, he said.
Rep. Thomas Mehaffie, R-Dauphin, prime sponsor of one of the energy credit bills — HB 11 — is optimistic that the legislation would be passed in time.
He expects movement in SB 510 next week, and said he's in discussion with Rep. Robert Matzie, D-Ambridge, about incorporating some provisions from the Senate bill, and is also taking input from clean energy groups.
“We are on the 10-yard line," he said. "I don’t want to kick a field goal, I want to get a touchdown.”