Keep nuclear generation at current levels, says Pennsylvania climate plan

September 29, 2021, 7:00AMANS Nuclear Cafe

The 2021 Pennsylvania Climate Action Plan recommends 18 “strategies” for realizing Gov. Tom Wolf’s goal of an 80 percent reduction in the state’s greenhouse gas emissions (from 2005 levels) by 2050. Two of the strategies are for the electricity-generation sector: (1) maintain operation at Pennsylvania’s nuclear power plants through at least 2050, and (2) achieve a 100 percent carbon-free grid by 2050.

In addition to focusing on electric power generation, the plan includes strategies for other major carbon-emitting sectors in the fossil fuel–heavy state, including transportation, industry, agriculture, and residential and commercial buildings. For each strategy, emission reductions, costs, and benefits in jobs and economic growth are quantified and health and social benefits analyzed.

The 278-page document, which was issued last week, was prepared by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, with support from Penn State University and two consulting firms, ICF and Hamel Environmental Consulting. A 2008 state law requires the DEP to develop a climate plan and impacts assessment every three years.

Strategic thinking: The new plan notes that only two nuclear reactors in Pennsylvania, Exelon’s Peach Bottom units, have been approved for operation past 2050, and that the state’s six other units—at Beaver Valley, Limerick, and Susquehanna—will need to apply for either first or second license renewal in order to stay on line through the mid-century mark.

In addition, “maintaining the current nuclear capacity may require the state to subsidize facilities if they face unfavorable economic conditions,” the plan states. “Assuming status quo energy and capacity market structures, nuclear facilities may face economic pressure and require Commonwealth intervention to ensure that the facilities do not retire early because of lower wholesale market revenues. One intervention the Commonwealth legislature could make is to pass legislation designating a Commonwealth agency to create and administer a Zero Emission Credit (ZEC) program to subsidize at-risk nuclear plants, as states such as New Jersey, New York, and Illinois have done.”

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