Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has signed an executive order to reduce carbon pollution 26 percent by 2025 and 80 percent from 2005 levels by the year 2050. The executive order is designed to strengthen the state’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard, which requires state utilities to purchase certain amounts of power from alternative sources.
In Pennsylvania, one important energy resource that is necessary to achieve Wolf’s goals is the continued use of nuclear power throughout the commonwealth. The reductions needed to achieve an impact on the threat of climate change are not possible without embracing every source of carbon-free energy, including the energy provided by our existing fleet of nuclear power plants.
Nuclear power plays an enormous role in Pennsylvania’s energy landscape. The state’s five nuclear power plants produce 93 percent of the state’s carbon-free electricity, rendering the resource mission-critical to decarbonization.
Moreover, Pennsylvania is second in the nation, behind Illinois, in nuclear power generating capacity and has one of the largest networks of suppliers and businesses supporting the industry throughout the world.
Operating Nuclear Power Reactors
Three Mile Island
To further underscore the vital role nuclear power plays, the state’s five nuclear power facilities help prevent 37 million tons of carbon pollution annually. That is equivalent to taking 8 million passenger cars off the road, which happens to be about the same as the number of registered vehicles in the state.
Despite the importance of nuclear power to Pennsylvania’s clean energy future, the Three Mile Island and Beaver Valley Generating Stations will shut down beginning this year. And the state’s three remaining nuclear power plants are on a trajectory to prematurely close.
Unfortunately, this may only make it harder to meet the carbon-reduction goals. Across the country when nuclear energy facilities are closed, they are most likely to be replaced by carbon-emitting sources.
For Pennsylvania families not only may this lead to worsening air quality, but also the loss of up to 16,000 direct and related jobs supported by the existing nuclear power plants.
Gov. Wolf’s plan to reduce carbon pollution will be more difficult to achieve without the carbon-free power delivered by Pennsylvania’s existing nuclear power.
Maintaining the state’s nuclear fleet is key to achieving his decarbonization goals in the most expedient and cost-effective way possible.
Wolf’s executive order puts the state in a league with 20 other states that already set targets.
The order is nonbinding and does not require future governors to follow it after Wolf leaves office when his second term ends in 2023. Making major progress will likely require agreements with the Republican-controlled Legislature.
The order comes as operators of nuclear power plants in Pennsylvania seek a subsidy to remain open and Wolf's administration works to get tougher on methane emissions from Pennsylvania's vast natural gas exploration fields.
A 180-page draft plan produced in November by Wolf's administration gives a roadmap for how to achieve the emission-reduction goals. The biggest cuts, it says, would come from boosting the use of renewable energies, creating incentives to expand electric vehicle use and keeping nuclear power generation at current levels.
But maintaining nuclear-power generation is a key to achieving those goals, according to Talen Energy Corp., which owns the Susquehanna nuclear plant in Luzerne County. Susquehanna would experience a “financial shortfall” in 2020 without a subsidy, according to a state legislative report on nuclear energy released last year. In addition, Three Mile Island nuclear plant outside Harrisburg is set to close in September, and at least one other plant, Beaver Valley in western Pennsylvania, has threatened to shut down without state or federal assistance. (The Morning Call, 1/25/2019, The Morning Call, 1/8/2019)