EDITORIAL: Legislature shouldn't intervene to prop up Three Mile Island Unit 1 reactor

York Dispatch
A Monday, May 22, 2017, file photo shows cooling towers at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Middletown, Pennsylvania.
  • Three Mile Island is scheduled to start the process of closing later this year.
  • Two area lawmakers plan legislation that might help keep TMI open.
  • Opponents of the proposal call it a "bailout" for an aging and inefficient plant.

Like any business, Three Mile Island should succeed, or fail, on its own merits.

It should not get an unfair boost of corporate welfare through a legislative “bailout.”

Yes, the closing of the nuclear plant on the Susquehanna River, and the loss of 600 good-paying jobs, would undoubtedly harm our local economy. There are many York County residents who earn their livings at the facility.

No one wants to see those jobs disappear, and we should do everything possible to ease the transition for those who are put out of work.

Still, area businesses close all the time. It’s the nature of a free-market economy. The Pennsylvania Legislature can’t step in with a taxpayer-supported handout every time a company threatens to close. The state’s residents simply can’t afford it and it's not an effective way of governing.

That’s especially true when the business in question is aging and inefficient. TMI is nearly a half century old and operates with only one of the two reactors that were originally built.

Planned legislation: That hasn’t stopped a couple of area Republican lawmakers from announcing their intentions to introduce legislation that might keep TMI operational beyond its scheduled September closure.

Exelon Generation — which owns the Dauphin County plant's Unit 1 reactor — must order fuel by June 1 or begin an irreversible decommissioning process. TMI, of course, is the site of the nation's worst nuclear accident. In 1979, the plant's Unit 2 reactor experienced a partial meltdown. Exelon owns and operates only the Unit 1 reactor. Unit 2 is shut down.

The proposed legislation would incorporate nuclear energy into the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act — a 2004 law that requires a percentage of electricity to come from alternative sources.

Expected legislation might save Three Mile Island

It seems odd that Republican lawmakers would support such legislation. Republicans, after all, continually tell us they want smaller government that gets out of the way of our businesses and allows free-market forces work their economic magic. Well, sometimes the magic gets a little messy and good folks suffer pain. It’s the nature of the capitalistic beast

The proposal’s supporters, however, claim that nuclear energy sources produce 93 percent of the state's zero-carbon electricity. As a result, it should be put on equal footing with the 16 other environmentally beneficial energy sources included in the law.

Of course, the proponents don’t mention the potential dangers that come with nuclear energy, or the problem of disposing of the nuclear waste.

"Bailout" critics: The idea of a nuclear "bailout" has justifiably drawn widespread criticism from across the political spectrum, including large industrial electricity users, ratepayer advocates, the natural gas industry,  AARP, the National Federation of Independent Business and anti-nuclear activists.

Exelon made $3.77 billion in net profits in 2017 for its combined operations of 13 nuclear plants. With that kind of bottom line, it hardly seems that the company needs legislative aid.

LETTER: TMI shutdown is overdue

If TMI is propped up by legislation, there is little doubt that energy users will pay the price in the form of higher prices.

Such legislation is unnecessary when you consider there are greener energy sources available and the market has excess capacity right now. It's the right time to transition smaller nuclear plants off the grid.

Yes, the plant’s workers, in particular, and the area economy, as a whole, will pay a high price.

The Legislature, however, should not step in every time such a closure looms.

In the long run, the state’s taxpayers and energy ratepayers can’t afford that kind of continued corporate welfare.