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Highlights

Plants estimated to make more than $3.4 billion in profits

Debate over nuclear plant support expanding to more states

New York — An anti-nuclear subsidy group Monday released a report by former PJM Interconnection chief economist Paul Sotkiewicz that determined four of Pennsylvania's five nuclear power plants appear profitable through at least 2028, based on public data.

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"The bottom line is Pennsylvania nuclear resources are profitable on an operating basis and have no incentives to retire for the foreseeable future, and there is no need for additional out-of-market financial support," the study concluded.

Pennsylvania lawmakers have been considering legislation that would provide support to the state's nuclear power plant owners who have said some of their nuclear units have struggled to remain profitable amid challenging wholesale power market dynamics.

Exelon, which owns the Limerick, Peach Bottom and Three Mile Island plants in Pennsylvania, said "prolonged periods of low wholesale power prices" and other factors have led to the company's decision to close the TMI plant around September 30, according to its most recent 10-K filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

"The Market and Financial Position of Nuclear Resources in Pennsylvania" report, made public Monday, found the going forward costs for six of nine operating nuclear units in Pennsylvania are at or below the industry average, with Three Mile Island 1 and Beaver Valley 1 and 2 having costs "well above average."

Additionally, based on the cost data the analysis found that eight of the nine nuclear units are operating profitably in covering their going forward and avoidable costs, and as such "there is no rational economic reason for them to retire."

A coalition of citizens' groups and power generators, along with energy, business and manufacturing associations, Citizens Against Nuclear Bailouts sponsored the analysis "to gain more information around the request for a bailout that is not voluntarily being offered by the corporations involved," spokesman Eric Heisler said in an email.

The study used nuclear generation unit-specific data instead of industry average data like PJM's Independent Market Monitor, Monitoring Analytics, Sotkiewicz said in a phone call. The IMM has reported similar results with regard to PJM nuclear plant profitability and has said the plants do not require out-of-market support.

Pennsylvania nuclear plant owners Exelon and FirstEnergy Solutions did not return comment requests. The PJM IMM's 2017 State of the Market Report estimates that Susquehanna and Peach Bottom did not cover their capital costs in 2016 and by 2020 the IMM projects that Susquehanna would not cover industry average capital costs, Talen spokeswoman Taryne Williams said in an email.

SUBSIDY DEBATE

New York, Illinois, New Jersey, and Connecticut have enacted legislation or other support mechanisms to bolster the finances of nuclear generators who have said they would otherwise shut the plants before their licenses expire because they are either losing or not making enough money.

With Pennsylvania and Ohio considering nuclear support legislation, a debate around the degree to which these nuclear plants require compensation beyond what they earn in competitive wholesale power markets is expanding and intensifying.

Sotkiewicz's 10-year outlook shows Pennsylvania nuclear power generators are projected to make more than $3.4 billion in profits, CANB said in a release.

But Exelon said in its SEC filing that the power markets do not currently compensate their plants for their "unique contribution to grid resiliency and their ability to produce large amounts of energy without carbon and air pollution."

Achieving the greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals and other policies put forth by leadership in several eastern US states would be more challenging without the contribution of low-emission nuclear power.

The nuclear generator subsidy debate has been contentious because the generator's financial statements are considered commercially sensitive trade secrets that are not publically released.

"There's a way to cut through this debate: If nuke owners want a handout they should be 'open kimono' on their financials," Travis Kavulla, director of energy and environment at free market think tank R Street Institute and a former Montana utility regulator, recently suggested on Twitter.

-- Jared Anderson, jared.anderson@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Valarie Jackson, newsdesk@spglobal.com