Pennsylvania needs nuclear power

A new report shows how important it is to the commonwealth's economy

The Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry and the Allegheny Conference on Community Development represent thousands of businesses that employ millions of Pennsylvanians in industries ranging from manufacturing and education to technology and health care. The Pennsylvania Statewide Building Trades Council represents 115 local unions from a wide array of skilled trades, including boilermakers, electricians, carpenters and operating engineers.

Business and labor strongly agree that energy is a cornerstone industry of Pennsylvania’s economy. A diverse energy portfolio provides reliable electricity generation, which translates into jobs and prosperity for workers, businesses and families. Recently, our organizations contracted with a leading economics firm, The Brattle Group, to determine the value of one particular segment of our energy sector: nuclear power.

Pennsylvania is a prolific energy producer. It is nothing short of spectacular that our commonwealth, despite having the sixth-largest state economy – an economy that consumes a significant amount of energy to manufacture products, move valuable cargo and keep the heat and lights on in schools, homes, businesses and hospitals — is able to be a net exporter of both gas and electricity to help fuel the growth of neighboring states as well. This is because we have tremendous assets in terms of coal, gas, renewables and nuclear energy. In fact, Pennsylvania has the second-largest fleet of nuclear facilities among the 50 states.

The commonwealth’s five nuclear plants generate more than a third of the state’s electricity and nearly all of our carbon-free power. Important for grid reliability, they can do so around the clock as “baseload generation” without the risk of disruption from a lack of fuel supply or inclement weather. In fact, these facilities were vital in preventing a blackout during the polar vortex two winters ago that could have left millions in the dark and bitter cold – something that came very close to happening.

Beyond the value nuclear power provides in terms of fuel diversity and security, the plants employ a great many Pennsylvanians. Nearly 4,700 people, many of them union members who work in a skilled trade, are employed at nuclear facilities in our state. The plants support another 11,000 Pennsylvania jobs and are the cornerstones of local economies in Beaver Valley in southwestern Pennsylvania, Susquehanna in Luzerne County, Limerick in Montgomery County and Three Mile Island and Peach Bottom in southcentral Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania nuclear-power industry and the jobs it sustains produce $2 billion in economic output and generate more than $400 million in annual state and federal tax collections — at a time when budgets are under pressure in both Harrisburg and Washington, D.C.

The state’s five nuclear plants also help keep down electricity prices by competing for customers with other power sources. The report estimates Pennsylvania residents and businesses save more than $780 million a year on their electricity bills thanks to the state’s nuclear plants.

There are challenges for nuclear power-generation companies. Developing and maintaining a skilled workforce is a continuing difficulty. Constantly changing regulatory measures are handed down by state and federal officials. There are laws requiring utilities to reduce the amount of electricity consumed, as well as mandates and subsidies for renewable resources. Natural-gas prices are at historic lows, though they are expected to rise. These forces are building on market conditions that threaten nuclear-power generation.

Many states are examining what type of energy mix they want to have in the future and how best to get there. We are not advocating today for any particular policy outcome. But, for our organizations and the businesses and workers we represent, we are promoting the Brattle report as a facts-based educational tool that proves that nuclear has a valuable – and we hope, ongoing – role to play in Pennsylvania’s diverse, competitive energy portfolio.

Gene Barr is president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. Dennis Yablonsky is CEO of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development. Frank A. Sirianni is president of Pennsylvania Statewide Building Trades.