Just over a week ago, the Brattle Group released a comprehensive study examining the value of Pennsylvania’s fleet of nuclear power plants to the state’s economy. If you’ve been following the electric generation industry, you’re probably aware that the states of Illinois and New York have both recently passed measures to help protect their respective nuclear generation from premature closure due to short-term market conditions. This study provides some insight into how critical the nuclear fleet is to Pennsylvania’s electricity generation industry.
The study found that nuclear plants in Pennsylvania:
- Account for 15,900 in-state full-time jobs
- Keep Pennsylvania consumers from paying $788 million more annually, and $6.6 billion more over the next ten years for their electricity (This translates to an increase of about $52 a year for the typical residential ratepayer, with greater increases for commercial and industrial customers)
- Are responsible for $69 million in net state tax revenues annually
- Contribute approximately $2 billion to the state gross domestic product
The study also cites the role the nuclear power plays on keeping pollutant emissions low. Without the nuclear fleet, they estimate that 37 million tons more C02 would be emitted per year and particulate matter emissions would jump 50% higher. In addition, some of the emission increases would occur in counties already designated as non-attainment status for various pollutants, resulting in additional regulatory restrictions in these areas. In economic terms, avoiding these pollutant increases is valued at nearly $2 billion per year.
While the report finds most consumers would pay substantially more for electricity, some groups could benefit from nuclear plant closures. Because renewable generators are already operating at nearly 100% capacity and each nuclear plant has a high energy output, there would be little room renewable generation to fill the gap in the short-term. Under a scenario in which all of Pennsylvania’s nuclear fleet were to retire quickly, Pennsylvania would rely heavily on filling electricity needs by importing the increased generation of natural gas and coal-fired generation from other states – resulting in Pennsylvania switching from being a net exporter of electricity to a net importer.
The report is particularly timely as at least one nuclear plant in Pennsylvania is facing premature retirement due to economic hardships resulting from historically low natural gas prices and the lack of any mechanism to place a value on carbon-free nuclear generation under current policies.
The problem with nuclear power plants shutting down is you cannot reactivate them later if we need them. Once a plant is decommissioned, it can’t come back online. The only way to get nuclear power back on the grid later would be to build new plants, and while other countries like China are doing that, it has become very, very expensive in the United States.