Toledo Blade article on Perry Nuclear Plant oral argument

Efforts are underway to block Perry nuclear plant's license extension

Tom Henry
The Blade
Jan 31, 2024
7:00 AM

A three-judge panel took testimony on Tuesday related to Energy Harbor’s request to get the operating license of its Perry nuclear plant east of Cleveland extended another 20 years.

The Perry nuclear plant and the Davis-Besse nuclear plant east of Toledo are Ohio’s two nuclear plants.

Both are owned and operated by Energy Harbor, both are along the Lake Erie shoreline, and both are in the process of being transferred to Texas-based Vistra Corp.

Davis-Besse went online April 22, 1977. Its operating license was extended to April 22, 2037 in 2015.

Perry went online Nov. 13, 1986. Its operating license is currently scheduled to expire on Nov. 7, 2026.

Energy Harbor is now trying to get Perry’s license extended another 20 years.

Judges hearing the case are part of an independent panel created by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board.

They weren’t hearing the actual challenge on Tuesday, but whether there is enough evidence to convene a more in-depth hearing in the future.

One of the contentions raised by opponents of the relicensing plan, Ohio Nuclear Free Network and Takoma Park, Md.-based Beyond Nuclear, centered around viable options that would be available if Perry’s license was not extended.

Four years after Davis-Besse’s license was renewed, the region’s 13-state grid operator, PJM Interconnection, said in a report to an Ohio legislative committee that it believed there would be enough electricity produced from other sources to make up for the shortage if the previous owner, FirstEnergy Solutions, had gone through with its plan to shutter those two plants and the twin-reactor Beaver Valley complex in western Pennsylvania in 2020. 

That was the original plan, announced and filed with the NRC, because of economic issues. Nuclear plants have had trouble competing against lower-priced sources of energy production, such as natural gas, solar, and wind energy.

Terry Lodge, a Toledo attorney representing the two opposition groups, told judges that the report is a key finding now that the Perry plant is up for its license extension. One of the questions raised during relicensing hearings is based on alternative options to continued nuclear power production.

Energy Harbor dismissed the viability of other sources as unreasonable, stating that nuclear power is too important to the baseload component.

Mr. Lodge, in his argument, accused Energy Harbor of “ducking under the regulation” by just stating in a report to the ASLB panel there are not enough viable alternatives without supporting that with evidence.

“We are not quibbling over a need for power. We’re quibbling over whether there is adequate disclosure,” Mr. Lodge told the judges. “There’s no analysis whatsoever.”

He said the 2019 PJM report claiming there are enough other sources of power in the 13-state region should be enough to merit a full hearing.

Ryan Lighty, a Washington-based partner in the Morgan Lewis law firm representing Energy Harbor, said Mr. Lodge is basing his claim on “an isolated comment at a state legislative hearing five years ago.”

“We certainly believe the baseload capability [of the Perry nuclear plant] is the area that introduces some uncertainty into the analysis,” Mr. Lighty said.

Reuben Siegman, an NRC staff attorney, said the regulatory agency was not taking a position on that debate.

PJM’s testimony came when Ohio lawmakers were considering passage of what has now become known as scandal-ridden House Bill 6, the $1 billion, 2019 bailout legislation for the two nuclear plants that federal prosecutors have shown was the result of a $61 million bribery scheme involving former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder.

Evelyn Robinson, PJM manager of state governmental affairs, testified before Ohio’s House Select Committee on Energy Policy and Oversight in September of 2020 when lawmakers were considering a repeal of House Bill 6.




PJM’s Evelyn Robinson Testifies Before Ohio Legislators | PJM Inside Lines

PJM issued a report in 2019 at the request of the Ohio Consumers' Counsel and the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. PJM. The grid operator claimed there could have been a $1.6 billion savings across the grid operator's 13-state region by 2023 if reactors at the Davis-Besse, Perry, Three Mile Island, and Beaver Valley nuclear complexes had continued on their paths toward early closures.

That's because PJM gets enough power from other sources that it is always at least 15 percent above capacity, and usually 20 percent or more. The surplus of electricity is meant to keep this part of the country from experiencing the type of rolling blackouts that California has experienced, Ms. Robinson said at the time.