To drive growth in its clean energy market and combat climate change, Pennsylvania adopted the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act in 2004.This requires energy companies to buy specific percentages of their total electricity from clean energy sources. The requirements started small but are designed to increase over time.
There are now 16 different clean energy choices for electric utilities to choose from in Pennsylvania. But new legislation would include a 17th clean generation option—nuclear power. Bills introduced in the state’s House and Senate are intended to prevent the retirement of the Three Mile Island nuclear plant outside Harrisburg and the Beaver Valley plant near Pittsburgh. Both plants are set for closure because they cannot compete on price with electricity from natural gas-fired power plants and renewable energy sources.
Adding nuclear to the clean energy list would not be a simple or inexpensive process. Pennsylvania energy consumers would have to pay hundreds of millions in subsidies to make the nuclear plants economically viable. It’s a process that other energy generators and the manufacturing sector worry will distort Pennsylvania’s energy market. But the nuclear industry supports roughly 16,000 industry jobs and generates 93 percent of the electricity produced in the state by sources that don’t emit carbon dioxide in the process.
Pennsylvania is hardly alone in its quest to buy clean energy; many other states are implementing plans that require energy companies to purchase set amounts so-called “carbon-free” electricity. In some states, nuclear is subsidized as a “green” energy source; in others, it is not. In Pennsylvania, it may be. The battle over that issue will play out in the state Legislature between now and early June, when the owner of the Three Mile Island plant is expected to decide whether to refuel or close it.