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.



Special Topic Briefing — More than Fuel: A Strategy for Shale Gas & Manufacturing

Friday, October 21st, 2016
First Floor Auditorium, 11 Stanwix Street, Pittsburgh PA 15222
8:30 AM – 9:00 AM – Registration, Breakfast, and Networking
9:00 AM – 10:30 AM – Presentation and Q&A

The shale gas revolution is about more than just taking it out of the ground. It’s about using the gas and the associated natural gas liquids as building blocks to drive petrochemical and advanced manufacturing in the region. The Shell cracker is just the start.

Please join us on Oct. 21 as David Ruppersberger, President of the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, an affiliate of the Allegheny Conference, describes how they are working to maximize this opportunity. He will be joined by Ken Zapinski, Senior Vice President for Energy & Infrastructure for the Allegheny Conference, who will outline how Pennsylvania is working together with Ohio and West Virginia to help the tri-state region compete globally.


This event is free to attend – Registration is required – Light breakfast will be provided

Sandia Labs Parabolic Trough Collectors

Federal Energy package makes its way into joint committee

At long last, we might have a little movement in terms of an update to Federal energy policy.

A joint conference between the U.S. House and Senate has been established to move a long-awaited package of energy policy updates through Congress.   Members were appointed to the joint conference committee two weeks ago.  Now begins the process of determining compromises on the differences between the two bills.

A major energy bill hasn’t passed since the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.   In part, this is because changes and technologies in the energy sector have been divisive, even between members of the same political party.  While it touches on most energy sectors, this package primarily seeks to promote more research, workforce development programs, changes to  energy efficiency standards and some support for electric grid modernization.  There is also currently some language supporting exports of liquified natural gas (click here for a summary of key provisions).

Read more:

House, Senate Look to Reconcile Energy Bills, Schedule Permitting (Morning Consult)

Senate OKs Conference on Energy Bill (RTO Insider)



Policy Watch: U.S. Senate is pushing forward the stalled Energy Reform Package

After being bogged down by funding amendments for Flint, MI and other issues, the “Energy Policy Modernization Act” has been resurrected and is expected to be brought up for a vote before the U.S. Senate today (Tuesday).  This bill represents the first broad legislative attempt to address growing issues for the nation’s energy sector since 2007.   It has generally seen bipartisan support as it has made its way through committees since originally introduced by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) last year.

Currently at 424 printed pages, there’s a lot of ground covered in this package.  In addition to updating language and definitions around various energy resources, the bill requires that DOE conduct new studies to answer questions about grid reliability, lays out support for workforce training programs (including those for displaced coal workers), and would require DOE to issue final determinations on LNG terminal applications within 45 days (some LNG terminal applications have been pending for more than 4 years).

Hoping to improve the Federal government’s role in spurring innovation, it is also worth noting that the bill attempts to make it easier for small businesses to access the National Labs, and increases the authorizations for the Office of Science in the U.S. Department of Energy, ARPA-E, and the Army Corp of Engineers.

Access a current copy of the bill here.  Read more about the anticipated amendments under consideration for this bill here.

4/20/2016 UPDATE:  Senate has passed this bill, which must now be reconciled with the House version.  Read more