Exelon to shut Three Mile Island plant in 2019; Switzerland votes to exit nuclear power

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Exelon to close Three Mile Island plant unless state provides support

Exelon plans to retire its 852 MW Three Mile Island Generating Station (TMI) in Pennsylvania in September 2019 unless the government implements new policies to support the plant, the company said in a statement May 30.

The announcement came after TMI and Exelon's Quad Cities nuclear plants failed to clear in the latest PJM base residual capacity auction. Rising renewable energy capacity and sustained low gas prices have driven down wholesale electricity prices.

              US wholesale power prices

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Exelon decided to continue operating its Clinton and Quad cities plants in Illinois after the plants were given support through the Illinois Future Energy Jobs Act, introduced in December 2016. New York has also approved zero-emission credits to support nuclear power plants but a number of other nuclear plants are at risk of closure.

Environmental Progress, a pro-nuclear research group, has said that 35 GW of U.S. nuclear capacity is at "triple risk" of closure because the plants are in de-regulated markets, reported to be uneconomical and up for relicensing before the end of 2030.

A far larger capacity could be at risk of closure, according to the research published by Environmental Progress in December 2016.

Cheap natural gas, heavily-subsidized solar and wind, and flattening electricity demand, make nuclear plants less economical everywhere, not just in deregulated markets, it said.

Trump probe

Exelon wants nuclear power to be included in Pennsylvania's Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (AEPS).

"Amending the AEPS is one of many potential solutions to preserve Pennsylvania’s nuclear plants. Other options include establishing a zero-emissions credit program, similar to the approach being implemented in Illinois and New York," the company said in its latest statement.

President Trump’s administration is currently investigating whether support for solar and wind projects is accelerating the retirement of nuclear and coal plants, Bloomberg reported April 15.

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry has ordered a 60-day study to evaluate how regulatory burdens, subsidies, and tax policies “are responsible for forcing the premature retirement of baseload power plants,” the report said.

Exelon operates 22 reactors at 13 nuclear facilities in Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland and New Jersey, representing a total capacity of 19.5 GW.

Swiss public votes to phase out nuclear power

Switzerland has voted to phase out nuclear power as part of a revised energy strategy which will also increase wind and solar power and reduce energy consumption.

In a referendum held May 21, some 58% of the Swiss public backed the plan which bans new nuclear plants but does not set a strict closure date for operational units.

Switzerland's five nuclear plants have a combined capacity of 3.4 GW and generate around 40% of the country's electricity.

In November 2016, the Swiss public rejected a proposal to close all of the plants after 45 years of operations. Some 55% of the population rejected the proposal by the Green Party which would have closed three of the five operational plants in 2017.

                       Switzerland's nuclear power plants

Source: World Nuclear Association (WNA). Data from Power Reactor Information System (PRIS).

European decommissioning activity is set to soar in the coming years.

Following the Fukushima disaster in 2011, Switzerland's neighbor Germany decided to close all of the country's nuclear plants by 2022.

In 2015, neighboring France implemented new 'energy transition' laws which aim to cut the share of nuclear power from 75% to 50% by 2025.

France's newly-elected president Emmanuel Macron has pledged to retain the energy transition laws but reactor shutdown dates will depend on measures to accelerate wind and solar development.

Market analysts have highlighted the challenge of shutting down an estimated 25 GW of French nuclear power capacity over such a short timeframe while maintaining grid stability.

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