ompetition from cheap natural gas has claimed another U.S. nuclear power plant in a state that has balked at government aid for financially ailing reactors.
Exelon Corp.’s Three Mile Island reactor near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, site of the worst commercial nuclear accident in U.S. history in 1979, will close in 2019 after losing money for five years, the company said Tuesday in a filing. At least five nuclear power plants have retired in the past five years including Fort Calhoun in Nebraska, which closed in October, as shale gas and rising output of wind and solar power depress prices.
While New York and Illinois have stepped in with mandates that customers pay more for nuclear power to save jobs and curb greenhouse gas emissions, Pennsylvania has not. Last year, Illinois approved a $235 million-a-year lifeline for Exelon’s Quad Cities and Clinton reactors after the company announced they would close.
The announcement smacks of “posturing,” Shahriar Pourreza, a New York-based analyst for Guggenheim Securities, said by phone Tuesday. “This is no different than what they did in Illinois. It’s the right tactic. They’ve got time.”
The Pennsylvania plant, with one reactor still in operation, has become a money loser amid falling power prices, according to Chicago-based Exelon. For the third consecutive year, the plant failed to win generating capacity payments last week in an auction held by PJM Interconnection LLC, the largest U.S. power market.
The Pennsylvania Nuclear Caucus, a group of lawmakers who want to keep the state’s five nuclear plants operating, will face stiff opposition from the natural gas lobby, according to Pourreza. Pennsylvania is the largest gas-producing state behind Texas, and a glut of the fuel from its prolific Marcellus Shale has worsened Three Mile Island’s situation, he said.
The power plant will forever live in infamy after one of its units partially melted downon March 28, 1979. The accident released “significant” radiation into the air, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. While about 2 million people were exposed to higher than normal levels of radiation, studies concluded it had “negligible effects” on health or the environment, the commission said. No new nuclear reactors were ordered in the U.S. for the following three decades.