The owner of Three Mile Island, site of the worst US commercial nuclear power accident, says it'll shut the plant in 2019 without a financial rescue from Pennsylvania. Exelon Corp.'s move comes after what it called more than five years of losses on the single-unit power plant and its recent failure in a capacity auction to sell Three Mile Island's power into the regional grid. In the meantime, Exelon wants Pennsylvania to give nuclear power the preferential treatment given to renewable energies, such as wind and solar. Exelon and other nuclear power plant owners contend that zero-carbon nuclear plants are better suited than natural gas or coal to fight climate change. So-called nuclear bailouts have thus far won approval in Illinois and New York, reports the AP, but the potential for higher utility bills in Pennsylvania is drawing pushback from rival energy companies, manufacturers, and consumer advocates.
Nuclear power plants have been hammered by the natural gas boom that has slashed electricity prices. Three Mile Island isn't alone: FirstEnergy Corp. has said it could decide next year to sell or close its three nuclear plants—Davis-Besse and Perry in Ohio and Beaver Valley in Pennsylvania. PSEG of New Jersey owns all or parts of four nuclear plants, but it has said it won't operate long-term money losers. Three Mile Island's damaged reactor, which partially melted down in 1979, has been mothballed since, but the other reactor is still in use. Exelon said its operating costs for just one unit at the plant are high, further damaging Three Mile Island's financial viability. With the rapid growth of natural gas power in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, closing Three Mile Island would have little or no impact on electricity bills, analysts say. But it may be replaced by carbon-emitting power sources such as coal or natural gas. (Read more Three-Mile Island stories.)