As many as three dozen nuclear reactors are considered at risk of closure for economic reasons.
The Kewaunee nuclear power plant in Wisconsin was closed in 2013
Electricity producers in several states are asking for hundreds of millions of dollars in financial support to keep costly nuclear power plants in business—a move that is likely to boost customers’ power bills.
The utilities claim the nuclear reactors in question—located in New York, Ohio and Illinois—should be given special compensation because they are important to local economies and the electrical grid’s stability, and because they don’t emit greenhouse gases or other pollutants.
But consumer advocates don’t see why utility customers should be asked to subsidize these plants. They note that New York, Ohio and Illinois all deregulated their electricity markets more than a decade ago, a move meant to reduce power costs in part by weeding out the least-competitive power plants.
Nuclear plants cost a lot to maintain and staff because they must meet more stringent safety standards than other kinds of power-generating stations. In recent years, plunging natural gas prices have forced down wholesale power prices, making it hard for reactors to compete, though they still supply 19% of America’s power.
Before deregulation, all nuclear reactors were part of utility-owned networks of power plants that used different kinds of fuel, including coal and natural gas. Utilities passed along their combined costs to consumers in a single monthly charge.
Today, roughly half the nation’s 99 nuclear reactors operate in deregulated markets where they must compete on a stand-alone basis by selling electricity to utilities and other suppliers through daily auctions that tap the cheapest resources capable of satisfying grid needs.