Opinion: Pennsylvania’s energy past could be its energy future

State Rep. Tom Mehaffie explains why lawmakers are relaunching the Pennsylvania Nuclear Energy Caucus.

State Rep. Tom Mehaffie speaks at a nuclear energy rally outside the Pennsylvania Capitol.

State Rep. Tom Mehaffie speaks at a nuclear energy rally outside the Pennsylvania Capitol. Pennsylvania House Republican Caucus

Nuclear power, which has produced one-third of the electricity generated within Pennsylvania for decades, helps keep the lights on for our homes and businesses with efficient, carbon-free production.

Domestically produced nuclear electricity provides a diversified energy portfolio and stable grid without releasing harmful emissions into the air. Emerging technology allows for nuclear power to be produced in much smaller spaces with fewer construction costs.

I’ve joined other representatives and senators in relaunching the bipartisan, bicameral Pennsylvania Nuclear Energy Caucus this summer to ensure we keep this tried-and-true clean energy contributing to our baseload power for generations to come.

The caucus stands ready to hear from stakeholders, including workers themselves, about how to maintain access to high-quality baseload power and provide grid reliability. We want to ensure Pennsylvania is properly positioned to capitalize on available federal resources.

In 2022, my House resolution directed the Joint State Government Commission to evaluate the benefits of nuclear energy and small modular reactors. SMRs are innovative technologies in which simple, fission-based units are constructed in factories and shipped to be assembled on-site, producing emission-free power 24 hours a day, regardless of whether the sun is shining or the wind is blowing.

Commercial SMRs are essentially all in design phases at the moment, with some planned as light-water reactors and some as non-light-water reactors. They’re expected to be easier to build and assemble at a total cost more affordable than traditional reactors. It is estimated that SMRs will reach the market in the 2030s.

2030 is fast approaching, so now is the time for the Pennsylvania General Assembly to ensure that safeguards – not barriers – are in place for construction of SMRs. The Nuclear Energy Caucus is our all-hands approach to make that happen.

We are in the early stages of listening and goal setting to ensure the caucus’ work is effective, efficient and foundational for the future.

When the Three Mile Island plant in Londonderry Township shut down in 2019, Pennsylvania-produced nuclear power dropped by 8%. It also decimated the regional workforce for those in IBEW Local 777 and other unions’ ranks, causing families to uproot their lives and leave their community.

The Legislature’s response to the planned Three Mile Island closure was sluggish and ineffective. That is why we’re positioning the Nuclear Energy Caucus to be more nimble, providing guidance for the four remaining nuclear plants within the state and foresight for SMRs.

Pennsylvania has incredible economic potential tied to the energy industry. With nuclear, coal, solar, wind, natural gas, rare earth mineral mining and a potential $1 billion lithium industry waiting to be unleashed – all within our borders – we are headed toward years of energy diversity and economic prosperity.

The commonwealth has the potential to continue leading in domestic energy production – and the Nuclear Energy Caucus will help to facilitate its nuclear future.

Tom Mehaffie is a state representative serving Dauphin County in Pennsylvania’s 106th House District.