Published: Wed, May 31, 2017
Markets | By Lucia Cruz

Owner says Three Mile Island plant to shut down in 2019

Owner says Three Mile Island plant to shut down in 2019

In 1979, the plant experienced the partial meltdown of one of its two reactors.

Exelon Corp.'s announcement comes after what it called more than five years of losses on the single-unit power plant and its recent failure in an auction to sell Three Mile Island's power into the regional grid.

The plant's name has been synonymous with public fears over the risks associated with nuclear power since the plant suffered a partial meltdown in 1979, sparking sweeping new rules for handling emergencies at nuclear sites.

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 OH and Beaver Valley in Pennsylvania.

Although the plant survived the worst nuclear disaster in US history, the plant isn't the casualty of its own infamy - indeed, it ran for decades after the meltdown and clean up - but of the natural gas boom and renewable energy.

Exelon still hopes to stave off the closure if Pennsylvania amends its Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (AEPS), or establishes a zero-emissions credit program along the lines of IL and NY.

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In the meantime, the Chicago-based energy company wants Pennsylvania to give nuclear power megawatts the kind of preferential treatment and premium payments that are given to renewable energies, such as wind and solar.

Nuclear plants have closed ahead of their licenses expiring in California, Florida, Nebraska, Vermont and Wisconsin, with more set to be decommissioned in the next several years.

For decades, the Three Mile Island nuclear plant has stood as a symbol of nuclear energy's promise and peril. No nuclear plant that was proposed after the accident has been successfully completed and put into operation in the U.S.

At least four other states are considering similar policies to provide additional revenue to keep their reactors in service, including Connecticut, New Jersey, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Exelon says the operating costs for just the one unit are high, further straining Three Mile Island's financial health. That has given a big competitive advantage to power plants that burn gas to produce electricity, with dozens of new ones coming online or being planned. At the same times, states are putting more emphasis on renewable energy and efficiency.

Because of the rapid growth of gas-fired power generation, closing Three Mile Island would have little or no effect on electricity bills, analysts say. But it may be replaced by carbon-emitting power sources such as coal or natural gas. FirstEnergy looking at the possibility of selling or shutting down power plants in OH and Pennsylvania, and PSEG could take a similar approach to its nuclear utilities in New Jersey.

The plant near Harrisburg, Pa., hasn't been profitable for the past five years, according to owner Exelon Corp.

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