Report highlights impact of US nuclear plant closures

17 April 2018

The announced closure of four nuclear power plants in Ohio and Pennsylvania will lead to increased emissions of carbon dioxide and air pollutants, according to a report released by the Brattle Group. The retirement of the Beaver Valley, Davis-Besse, Perry and Three Mile Island plants will also mean higher electricity costs for residents, and the loss of thousands of jobs.

Davis-Besse - 460 (Fenoc)
Davis-Besse is one of the four plants facing closure (Image: FirstEnergy)

The owners of the four plants announced they will be retired over the next several years because of challenges in wholesale power markets that do not value the environmental attributes provided by those plants. FirstEnergy Solutions recently said that, without state or federal relief, Beaver Valley, Davis-Besse and Perry would be shut down over the next three years. Exelon Generation had previously announced it would close Three Mile Island in 2019.

Brattle principals Dean Murphy and Mark Berkman have now estimated the economic and environmental impact of those plant closure, drawing from prior work that examined the impacts of the Ohio and Pennsylvania plants. Their report - titled Impact of Announced Nuclear Closures in Ohio and Pennsylvania - was released yesterday. It was prepared at the request of Nuclear Matters - a national coalition that works to inform the public and policymakers about the clear benefits of nuclear energy.

According to the authors' analysis, the retirement of the four plants will lead to an increase of over 21 million tonnes of CO2 emissions annually. Annual emissions of harmful air pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter will also increase by tens of thousands of tonnes, with potential social costs of USD170 million per year.

The total zero-emission generation of the four plants - and therefore the fossil emissions avoided by them - is considerably greater than all solar and wind generation in the PJM electricity market in which they operate, the study found.

"Retiring these plants would more than reverse the emissions benefits of all the renewable generation in PJM installed over the past 25 years, and the billions of dollars of historical investments that have supported it," it said.

Closure of the plants will raise gross electricity costs for customers by around USD400 million for Ohio, USD285 million for Pennsylvania, and USD1.5 billion across all of PJM. In addition, more than 3000 direct jobs would be put at risk, as well as thousands of additional secondary jobs. Tens of millions of dollars would also be lost in local tax revenues.

"As this report makes clear, policymakers should take note of the critical environmental and economic contributions of our nation's nuclear plants, especially where their continued operation is threatened, noted study authors Murphy and Berkman. "Any discussion of Pennsylvania's and Ohio's energy futures must recognise the significant environmental and economic risks associated with allowing these four plants to close. The impending closures indicate a significant concession in their clean energy commitments."

"It is imperative that we act to prevent the closures of these four nuclear plants which contribute needed diversity to Ohio and Pennsylvania's overall energy supply and provide residents a dependable power source in extreme weather situations," said Nuclear Matters advisory council member and former senator Judd Gregg. "Following Vermont Yankee's shuttering in New England, we saw devastating effects."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News