Brattle Group finds PA’s nuclear plants have significant impacts on electricity costs and emissions

Water vapor being released at Beaver Valley Nuclear Station in Shippingport, PA
Water vapor being released at Beaver Valley Nuclear Station in Shippingport, PA |  FirstEnergy Corp.

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.

Full Report:  Pennsylvania Nuclear Power Plants’ Contribution to the State Economy.pdf

Related news:

Op-Ed: Pennsylvania needs nuclear power – Post-Gazette

FirstEnergy’s 6 power plants in Pa. up for sale – PowerSource

Pa. utility asks state for help to keep coal and nuclear plants going – Newsworks

New Report Makes The Case For Why We Shouldn’t Let Nuclear Plants Shut Down – The Daily Caller

Senators Told They Must Fund Nuke Plant Upgrades – Courthouse News

Event: What’s Next for PA DEP?  A Conversation with Secretary Patrick McDonnell

Thursday, December 1st
1:00pm – 1:30pm Registration and Networking
1:30pm – 2:30pm Presentation and Q&A
First Floor Auditorium, 11 Stanwix Street, Pittsburgh PA 15222

Join us for a conversation with the Acting Secretary of the PA Department of Environmental Protection, Patrick McDonnell. McDonnell has been serving as Acting Secretary since May, and was nominated to fill the position permanently by Gov. Tom Wolf in September.

McDonnell has worked for the DEP for the last 13 years, and will share his thoughts about his priorities for the Department, as well as take questions and comment on issues that the Department works on, such as permitting, regulatory coordination, energy efficiency, and energy production in Pennsylvania.

Registration is required; please RSVP using the link below by Monday, Nov. 28th.


About Patrick McDonnell:

Prior to his appointment as Acting Secretary, Patrick McDonnell was most recently the director of policy for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, where he oversaw the agency’s regulation and policy development processes. In addition, Mr. McDonnell ran the State Energy Office and was charged with coordination of renewable energy and energy efficiency issues.

Prior to returning to DEP, Mr. McDonnell was executive policy manager for former Commissioner Pamela A. Witmer of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, focusing on electric, natural gas and water issues as well as cybersecurity and the impact of environmental regulation on energy markets.

Previously, Mr. McDonnell spent 13 years with DEP in a variety of roles. As deputy secretary for administration, he managed the budget, human resources, information technology and oversaw the facilities management functions of the agency. He also previously served as policy director and as an assistant to the special deputy secretary. He began his career at DEP working in the State Energy Office on energy efficiency, renewable energy, and green building projects.

Mr. McDonnell received his Master’s degree in Political Science from Lehigh University and his Bachelor’s Degree in Politics from DeSales University.


A busy week of environmental regulations

The past two weeks have been one of the busiest periods of time in recent memory for movement on sweeping environmental regulations. Since these will impact every sector of the economy and every person in the nation, a summary is in order:

Pennsylvania DEP continues its series of 14 listening sessions on how it should craft the state plan to comply with the EPA Clean Power Plan.  Most testimony followed the expected path with the usual suspects delivering the usual lines.

However, in Greensburg,  The Green County Messenger reports the offerings were more personal with Thelma Szarell, superintendent of the West Greene School District, saying, “Recently, we consolidated our elementary schools and built a new West Greene Elementary center, after years of wrestling with the issues of need, cost, and safety. It is not the Taj Mahal, but it is an updated facility that meets the needs of our students and community.This endeavor would not have been possible without adequate tax dollars,” she said. “Our school district has been supported by the coal industry. Local taxpayers would be burdened with higher taxes without the contribution from the mining industry to offset the cost.”

Pittsburgh was one of three locations for EPA to host a public hearing on the proposed methane rules for the oil and gas industry. The proposed rules are part of a plan that would reduce the industry’s pollution by up to 45 percent by requiring improved leak detection in most infrastructure components and targets reductions at compressor stations. API, an industry trade group, credits the industry with reducing emissions through the use of new technologies and practices, and calls the new rules, “another layer of burdensome requirements could actually slow down industry progress to reduce methane emissions.”

Complete details on the rule can be found in the Federal Registry.

On Wednesday, EPA has finalized revisions to effluent limitations guidelines and standards, and set the first federal limits on the levels of toxic metals in wastewater discharges from steam electric power plants. The rule has been surrounded by legal uncertainties, and POWER reports the challenges will continue – “I think that industry will likely argue that EPA’s record does not support some of the technology determinations, such as chemical precipitation and biological treatment for FGD wastewater and dry handling/closed-loop handling for bottom ash, and that EPA’s cost estimates are not properly supported (that is, the significantly underestimated the costs of these controls).”

The final prepublished 311 page rule is available from EPA’s website.

In another first, EPA released final rules for oil refinery emissions that will require fenceline monitoring and additional controls on various flaring activities. The U.S. has 142 refineries and EPA estimates 6.1 million people live within three miles of these facilities.  Facilities will have until 2018 to comply.

On Thursday,  after much anticipation, EPA tightened the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ground-level ozone to 70 parts per billion (ppb), from a previous standard of 75 ppb. EPA was expected to adopt a standard between 65-70 ppb. The Wall Street Journal does a good job summarizing the claims by environmentalists the standard isn’t stringent enough, while industry claims the standard goes too far and will adversely impact the nation’s economy.

DEP announces community listening sessions on Clean Power Plan

The Department of Environmental Protection will hold three public input sessions on the Clean Power Plan  in southwestern PA:

September 21, 2015: Allegheny County     

  • 6:00 p.m.9:00 p.m.
  • Carnegie Mellon University
  • Roberts Hall – Singleton Room
  • 4th Floor
  • 5000 Forbes Avenue
  • Pittsburgh, PA 15213

September 22, 2015: Cambria County     

  • 9:00 a.m.12:00 p.m.
  • Conference Center at University of PittsburghJohnstown
  • Heritage Hall A
  • 450 Schoolhouse Road
  • Johnstown, PA 15904

September 22, 2015: Greene County   

  • 6:00 p.m.9:00 p.m.
  • Waynesburg Central High School
  • Auditorium
  • 30 Zimmerman Drive
  • Waynesburg, PA 15370

These listening sessions are to provide an opportunity to hear from Pennsylvanians as DEP starts to prepare the state’s compliance plan with the federal regulation. A total of fourteen listening sessions across the state will take place between September and November.

DEP will also accept written comments through November 12, 2015. DEP is soliciting comments on the Clean Energy Incentive Program component of the CPP and on the EPA-proposed Federal Plan that serves as a model rule for states developing their state plans. DEP is also soliciting comments on specific compliance related questions which are available on the Department website.  Comment submissions can be made here: or emailed to or mailed to 400 Market Street P.O. Box 2063 Harrisburg, PA 17105.

DEP will hold a webinar on the Clean Power Plan at 10 a.m. on Wednesday September 9, 2015. Speakers will include DEP Secretary John Quigley and DEP Policy Director Patrick McDonnell. To register for the webinar, please click here.

Event: “Impacts of Ozone Regulations on Jobs In Our Community”

You may be interested in attending this event hosted by African American Chamber of Commerce of Western Pennsylvania,  National Black Chamber of Commerce, and U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The event will take place at the Omni William Penn Hotel in Pittsburgh, PA on Wednesday, September 2, 2015 from 11:30 am – 2:00 pm. A complimentary lunch will be served. You can register here.

In March 2008, the EPA lowered the 8-hour primary NAAQS for ozone to its current level of 75 parts per billion (ppb).  In November 2014, the EPA proposed lowering the ozone standard to a range between 65 to 70 ppb.  By court order, the Agency must finalize the standard by October 1, 2015.  There will be major impacts .  A panel of experts will discuss what’s in the proposed rule and some of the anticipated impacts.