If Trump Does Nothing, More Nuclear Power Plants Could Shut Down

REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

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Jason Hopkins Immigration and politics reporter
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Representatives for a major energy company that will be closing three nuclear plants are calling on President Donald Trump’s administration to give them a boost, or else more plants will follow suit.

FirstEnergy filed for bankruptcy in March and will be shuttering three nuclear plants in Ohio and Pennsylvania. The Ohio-based company announced its plans following massive shortfalls in revenue. For example, FirstEnergy’s plant in Shippingport, Pa., lost around $90 million in 2017 alone. Nuclear plants have struggled with profitability in the face of the rapidly expanding natural gas industry, which experienced a boom following the advent of hydraulic fracturing. Natural gas has become a cheaper and more viable option for electricity production.

FirstEnergy is asking the federal government to step in and keep the plants running, saving thousands of direct and indirect jobs. More specifically, the struggling company is asking Energy Secretary Rick Perry to initiate a “202-C” grid emergency, which would ultimately force higher prices on customers in Pennsylvania and surrounding communities.

Enacted by Congress in 1935, the 202 provision was created to ensure the grid would keep running during emergency situations, such as hurricanes or world wars. The Energy Department executed the law only eight times since 2000.

FirstEnergy’s predicament is an emergency situation, arguing PJM Interconnection, the electrical grid covering the mid-Atlantic region, may be subjected to blackouts at times of peak demand, the company claimed. “Nuclear and coal-fired generators in PJM have been closing at a rapid rate — putting PJM’s system resiliency at risk — and many more closures have been announced,” FirstEnergy wrote in its official request to Secretary Perry.

However, the company’s woes do not constitute an emergency, critics argue.

“What FirstEnergy is describing in its application is not an emergency. It’s just that they’re not getting paid as much as they’d like. That’s not an emergency,” Harvard Law Professor Ari Peskoe remarked in a Friday report for NPR.

PJM CEO Andy Ott was also critical of the proposal, pointing out the proliferation of natural gas plants has, at least for the foreseeable future, removed the threat of power outages. “We have an oversupply situation,” he said in the NPR report. “We have more power generation capability than we need. In fact, 10 percent more.”

The decision will rest with the Trump administration. Unfortunately for FirstEnergy, it appears they are leaning toward not using the 202 law, with Secretary Perry remarking at an energy conference Monday he didn’t believe it was the “most appropriate” option on the table.

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