Several Nuclear Plants Likely To Close, Despite Pleas For Federal Assistance

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Jason Hopkins Immigration and politics reporter
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After making unheeded calls for the federal government to step in and save FirstEnergy’s unprofitable plants, several of its nuclear reactors will be permanently closing in a few years time, the company’s officials announced Wednesday.

Citing “sever economic challenges,” FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company, a subsidiary of FirstEnergy Corp., sent a certification letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to announce the shutdown of three of its plants in Ohio and Pennsylvania. The company’s Davis-Besse plant near Toledo will close on May 31, 2020; the Perry plant near Cleveland will close exactly one year later; the Beaver Valley plant is due to shut down entirely on October 31, 2021.

The closures will affect roughly 2,300 employees.

FirstEnergy first announced its intentions to close the plants on March 28 and filed for Chapter 11 protection on March 31. However, the company had heavily lobbied President Donald Trump’s administration to issue emergency powers to keep the plants running — a move they argued would save jobs and be better for the environment.

The beleaguered utility company requested Energy Secretary Rick Perry to initiate a “202-C” grid emergency. The decades-old provision — created to ensure the grid would keep running during emergency situations, such as hurricanes or world wars — would essentially force electricity consumers to purchase their power at higher rates. However, neither Trump nor Perry appeared receptive to the idea of issuing a 202-C, although they both publicly expressed interest in finding a solution to save the plants.

Closings of the nuclear plants would bring undue economic and environmental consequences, resulting in thousands of layoffs and added CO2 into the atmosphere as the nuclear energy lost would likely be replaced with natural gas, a comprehensive April 16 study determined. Such a move would amount to nothing more than a bailout, detractors of government intervention, typically composed of environmentalists and competing power companies, have argued. Critics also point out closures of FirstEnergy’s plants would pose no threat of power blackouts — something FirstEnergy has claimed could happen.

The company, nonetheless, has decided to move forward with the plant closures, adding it will be business as usual for the employees before the announced termination dates.

“We are actively seeking policy solutions at the state and federal level as an alternative to retiring these plants, which we believe still have a crucial role to play in the reliability and resilience of our regional grid,” FES Generation Cos. President Don Moul said in a Wednesday statement.

“What also is at stake for the region is 4,048 megawatts of zero-emission baseload generating capacity — an all but irreplaceable resource,” Moul continued. “As early as mid-2019, we will begin facing decisions on each of these plants as to whether to refuel them or shut them down. Absent legislative or regulatory relief, we cannot continue to operate the plants on their current uneconomic basis.”

FirstEnergy’s financial woes are indicative of a quickly changing energy industry. The entire nuclear and coal sector has faced economic challenges with the proliferation of natural gas, which has emerged in recent years as a more cheap and plentiful alternate — thanks in large part to the invention of fracking.

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