It’s not nearly as much ironic as it is emphatic that on the same day Exelon Corporation announced that it might close the economically unviable Three Mile Island 1 reactor in Pennsylvania, SCANA is reported to have suggested that it might only complete one of two “next-generation” reactors it had proposed for South Carolina. Add to that the recent Westinghouse (and by extension, Toshiba) bankruptcy and the message is clear: nuclear of the past can’t compete in the present, and apparently has no future either. In short – the Nuclear Age is over.
But old bad habits die hard, especially when they are funded by somebody else’s pocketbooks, like, say, powerless ratepayers who have no choice. And Exelon is not about to give up on its nuclear jones when there are plenty of ratepayers left to fleece.
Exelon is playing the same ‘nuclear hostage crisis’ game of, “Give us a bailout, or we’ll kill your local economy!” in Pennsylvania that they played in Illinois – and which they ironically opposed in Ohio when utility bailouts competed against Exelon’s corporate interests. This nuclear extortion – dare we say ‘terrorism’? – game was successfully used in New York as well, and threatens to spread like some form of radioactive ebola to other states and their legislatures.
The threat of job and tax base loss to the reactor communities inspires local political leaders dependent on that largesse to lobby like crazy in state legislatures for nuclear bailouts – especially in election years, as we learned in Illinois. And while these are legitimate concerns needing to be addressed, nuclear bailouts are not the answer. There are other, more practical and economic ways to soften the blow of losing a “company town” employer and preserving a tax base that can support essential public services like schools and police/fire departments until local economies can rebound from the loss of an Exelon-sized employer.
One way is to establish “just transitions” funds for reactor (and we would suggest, coal) communities PRIOR to closures, threatened or real. These would be escrowed funds set up that would become available only upon termination of a reactor operating license, to be used to preserve essential public services, and mitigate economic impacts through job re-training and attracting and establishing replacement business and industry. The funding mechanisms are negotiable, and numerous; and would involve the utility, the community, and possibly the state.
The point is – the utility would no longer be in a position to put the economic gun to the puppy’s head to force the state legislatures to grant an unwise bailout.
But if bailouts are the “answer” (and if they are, what on earth was the question?), then be sure to bailout the right party. It is the affected communities that need the bailout, not for-profit private corporations. No state constitution requires the legislature to insure the profitability of private corporations; that’s why corporations have boards of directors. The legislatures supposedly are to represent the interests of the people – like the ~4 million ratepayers in Illinois who are now forced to pay Exelon Corporation $230 million per year, for the next ten years, and get nothing back in return for this coerced ‘investment.’
In Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner said he supported the Exelon bailout because, “closing the plants would have “devastated the two communities.” If he really and truly believed that, then he should have worked to bail out the potentially devastated communities, not the hugely profitable Exelon corporation.
In Illinois NEIS made this suggestion public in our testimony before the legislative energy committees, suggesting that Gov. Rauner provide funding for the Clinton and Quad Cities communities affected by Exelon’s closure plans, not profitable Exelon. Instead Governor Rauner decided to increase the Exelon bailout period from the original six years to ten!
If one were to amortize the $2.35 billion Illinois electric rate hike bailout over the 1,500 direct jobs Exelon claims would be lost if it had closed the Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear stations, Governor Rauner and Exelon are now forcing Illinois ratepayers to pay $1.57 million per job “saved.” We could have bought these workers out cheaper, closed the reactors, and prevented the production of ~900 tons of high-level radioactive wastes over the next 10 years those uneconomic reactors will operate.
It is time to end the Exelon ‘nuclear hostage crisis.’ There are now plenty of blueprints available illustrating the folly of nuclear bailouts, and ways to avoid them. Given the End of the Nuclear Age, one can only hope that Pennsylvania legislators will realize by now that it’s stupid energy policy to mortgage your energy future by bailing out the past.