Rep. Hershey has it right on nuclear power

When people think of nuclear power, they tend to think of it in terms of the energy it provides. But what they might not consider is how important nuclear is to both Pennsylvania’s economy and national security.

That is why a bill recently introduced in the Pennsylvania General Assembly that would expand our state’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard, a program designed to foster economic development and encourage reliance on more diverse sources of energy, to include nuclear power is so important to not just the future of the nuclear industry, but the commonwealth itself.

While critics of the Keep Powering Pennsylvania Act have been shortsighted, fortunately there are lawmakers who see it for what it really is — a way to keep electric rates stable in Mifflin County and across the state, while providing hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes and protecting the jobs of thousands of hard-working Pennsylvanians.

President Trump’s energy secretary, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, certainly sees it that way.

He recently said while discussing nuclear energy that if he were Pennsylvania’s governor, he’d want to “try to keep a job creator in business.”

Perry also called it wise to consider if “there are industries in our state that are worth subsidizing, supporting.”

Most people also probably don’t realize the role nuclear also plays in protecting America by providing an uninterrupted power source that cannot be stopped by cyber and terrorist attacks. Former Republican Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, who also served as the nation’s first Homeland Security secretary after 9/11 under President George W. Bush, has also argued that nuclear power makes the U.S. safer, saying that “only a grid built on diverse and stable sources of energy can withstand evolving threats and keep the lights on throughout America. The goal of grid resilience cannot be met without nuclear power.”

Locally, Rep. John Hershey understands the importance of nuclear power and why the Trump Administration wants to preserve the industry. Hershey is standing up against some powerful interests to support legislation to keep 16,000 jobs right here in Pennsylvania, keep our electricity rates stable, and protect the commonwealth and country from those who would seek to attack the nation’s electric grid to disrupt people’s safety and economic wellbeing.

Dauphin County’s Three Mile Island, which is slated to close in September if state action is not taken by June, accounts for hundreds of well-paying jobs while paying out $1 million each year in taxes for such local services as schools and roads.

Sadly, Three Mile Island is not alone in wondering about its future. The Beaver Valley plant near Pittsburgh could also close prematurely this year followed by others in the near future without action. Our state’s other three plants could face similar fates.

That’s 16,000 family-sustaining jobs that could be in jeopardy. It’s why lawmakers must recognize that they need to focus on job retention as well as creation to ensure hardworking commonwealth citizens can live without fear of not being able to provide for their families.

Critics choose to ignore that doing nothing to keep our nuclear power plants operating will cost Pennsylvanians $4.6 billion annually in benefits the nuclear plants provide to Pennsylvania, our local governments, and our residents. This means if we do nothing, and lose our state’s nuclear power plants, the average residential electricity bill will increase $2.39 per month, but if our state legislators take action to preserve the nuclear fleet, the average residential electricity bill will increase less, by about $1.77 per month.

Nuclear energy adds $2 billion to our state economy annually plus another $400 million in taxes. That is an incredible hit to homeowners, businesses, and governments if the nuclear power plants were to disappear.

Losing nuclear plants, which provide 40% of the electricity generated in Pennsylvania, could drive up electricity rates for homeowners and businesses by nearly $800 million as the gas companies would have a near monopoly. It’s why the gas industry opposes the bill. It’s simple math: the legislation fails, there will be less competition, and the gas companies make more money as the nuclear plants and their jobs go away.

Other states have already taken action because they recognized that nuclear energy is an economic engine for their local communities.

In Pennsylvania, it’s time to take similar action. Sixteen forms of energy are already covered by the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act. It’s time to add nuclear power to the list to keep Pennsylvania prosperous and safe.

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Jeff Haste serves as a Dauphin County Commissioner, is a member of the Clean Jobs for PA Coalition, a native of Mifflin County and a proud 1977 graduate of Lewistown Area High School.

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