Grid operator urges cooperation if states want to preserve nuclear plants
HARRISBURG — The regional electric grid for Pennsylvania and 12 other states can adapt and remain reliable without the state’s five nuclear power plants, but it is not likely to face that situation anytime soon, an official with grid operator PJM Interconnection said on Wednesday.
“I don’t think all of the nuclear units in Pennsylvania are at risk,” Stu Bresler, senior vice president of operations and markets for Valley Forge-based PJM, told the Legislature’s nuclear caucus.
Only one, Exelon Corp.’s Three Mile Island in Dauphin County, has not cleared PJM’s capacity auction and is “economically challenged,” he said.
The caucus, made up of legislators from both parties and chambers, is concerned with the survival of the state’s nuclear plants, which are struggling to compete in a deregulated market increasingly influenced by the low cost of natural gas. Ohio-based FirstEnergy Corp., for example, has said it plans to retire or sell its Beaver Valley nuclear power station in Shippingport next year.
Mr. Bresler suggested there are ways for states to achieve their energy policy goals — in this case, preserving nuclear plants — so they don’t disrupt the markets that have made power supplies more diverse, efficient and affordable in recent years.
PJM would prefer states work together on solutions that can be integrated smoothly into the existing markets, for example, by setting a carbon price that values the carbon-free attributes of nuclear plants.
But if states act on their own to adopt plans to subsidize individual power plants, the grid operator is going to find a way to adapt, Mr. Bresler said.
“I want to make this very clear: PJM is not looking at this from the standpoint of what rules could we produce that would preempt states’ pursuit of public policy objectives,” he said. “We are looking at ways that we can implement market rules that would harmonize the states’ public policy pursuits with how the wholesale market operates.”
Legislators in the caucus have not yet signaled what kinds of policies they might propose, but they were clear that they are concerned with the possible long-term reliability and cost implications of losing base-load nuclear power.