State Options to Keep Nuclear in the Energy Mix

Kristy Hartman and Daniel Shea 5/30/2017

Over the past several months, there has been a significant increase in the number of policy proposals that state legislatures are considering which aim to support nuclear power. Due to the pace at which the discussions are taking place to retain the current U.S. nuclear fleet, NCSL has published an addendum to this report that summarizes key developments between January and May 2017. The addendum offers an up-to-date supplement to the report and can be accessed through the Resources section on the right side of this page.

Nuclear Report cover.Executive Summary

Since 2013, six nuclear reactors in the United States have permanently closed, another 12 reactors have been scheduled to shut down, and operators at several more plants have warned of other possible reactor closures in the coming years.

While nuclear power provides almost 20 percent of the nation’s electricity generation, some nuclear plants in restructured electricity markets are finding it difficult to adapt to changes brought about in recent years by competing energy sources and relatively low growth in electricity demand. This combination of factors has challenged nuclear’s place in the nation’s energy mix, drawing the attention of utilities, regulators, federal officials and state policymakers.

Although a number of reasons drive why legislators are exploring policies that support nuclear generation, primary factors include the high reliability of nuclear power, its carbon-free emissions profile and nuclear’s economic contribution to states. Nuclear plants are a reliable generation source—operating at 92 percent capacity factor in 2015—higher than any other generation source. Commercial nuclear reactors account for approximately 60 percent of the nation’s carbon-free electricity, while providing jobs and tax revenue for the local communities and states in which they operate.

In late 2016, two states established new policies aimed at retaining existing nuclear power plants. Illinois and New York will begin implementation of similar policy mechanisms that aim to compensate struggling nuclear plants for their carbon-free attributes. It is likely that these Zero Emissions Credits, as they are known, will keep four at-risk power plants operating into the following decade.

Although this report focuses on existing nuclear plants and the role state legislatures may play in efforts to retain the current nuclear fleet, some states are also exploring ways to support advanced technologies such as small modular reactors. Bills have been introduced in several states that provide tax incentives, urge continued federal investment or evaluate the economic benefits of advanced nuclear technologies as a way to continue the use of nuclear power in the United States. States are also introducing measures to leverage science, technology, engineering and math research that encourage continued investment in nuclear jobs and education. In addition, 21 states have introduced legislative since 2015 pertaining to the transportation, storage, and disposal of spent nuclear fuel. While NCSL recognizes that the management of the nation’s spent nuclear fuel is an important issue, this report focuses on power generation and does not examine current state action or policy options for waste management.

This report explores the reasons nuclear plants are at risk of closing and how state policymakers, federal officials and the industry are responding. It is meant to serve as a resource for state policymakers who are interested in ways to maintain a state’s nuclear generation.

Many of the policies discussed in this report have already been proposed in various states. While only a few of these bills have been enacted, policymakers in in a number of states are increasingly discussing the issue as more plants come under pressure. Policies range from offering tax incentives or imposing a carbon tax, to the creation of statewide mandates that require utilities to purchase a specified amount of nuclear power, similar to renewable portfolio standards. The intent of this report is to continue the dialogue on the role of state policymakers, utility regulators, federal officials and the nuclear industry in providing affordable, reliable and clean energy across the United States.

Report by Sections

For complete background and detail, please download the full PDF report: "State Options to Keep Nuclear in the Energy Mix." The links below will take you to specific sections of the report.