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Missing the Point about Pennsylvania’s Nuclear Plants

A group that includes oil and gas companies in Pennsylvania released a study on Monday that argues that twenty years ago, planners underestimated the value of nuclear plants in the electricity market. According to the group, that means the state should now let the plants close.

Huh?

The question confronting the state now isn’t what the companies that owned the reactors at the time of de-regulation got or didn’t get. It’s not a question of whether they were profitable in the '80s, '90s and '00s. It’s about now. Business works by looking at the present and making projections about the future.

Is losing the nuclear plants what’s best for the state going forward?

Pennsylvania needs clean air. It needs jobs. And it needs protection against over-reliance on a single fuel source.

Pennsylvania needs clean air, jobs and diverse energy sources.

What the reactors need is recognition of all the value they provide. The electricity market is depressed, and if electricity is treated as a simple commodity, with no regard for its benefit to clean air or the communities where it is produced, some very good energy sources will starve.

The group’s position has a second flaw. When analyzing what other states did, looking only at the cost doesn’t give an accurate picture of the basis for the decision. When Illinois moved to recognize the value of its reactors, it preserved massive property tax revenues, payroll tax revenues and the economic stimulus of spending by the power plants.

If the reactors don’t generate the electricity, somebody else will. Some of the replacement energy will come from within Pennsylvania, but a lot will come from outside; in essence, the state is exporting jobs, and all of the benefits that come with those jobs.

Pennsylvania needs a balanced energy portfolio, one that doesn’t afford a monopoly position to natural gas.

The above is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior communications advisor at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

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