Two of Shapiro’s clean energy sources in new power plan unlikely to arrive by 2035 deadline

Governor Shapiro reignited the energy debate in the commonwealth last week when he announced his long term energy plan that includes a cap-and-trade mechanism to lower the state’s carbon emissions, and also sets new goals for the state’s energy portfolio.

But many critics of the plan say key details are missing, and some of the energy sources he’s banking on are still so theoretical or untested that it creates a risk for the commonwealth to bet on those technologies at the moment.

Shapiro’s plan asks the state to get 35 percent of its energy from so-called clean energy sources by 2035.

The acceptable sources for that goal are called “Tier I sources”, and include “solar, wind, low-impact hydropower, geothermal, small modular nuclear reactors, nuclear fusion technology, and fugitive emissions from coal mines and landfills,” according to a report by StateImpact Pennsylvania.

Two of those sources — small modular nuclear reactors, and fusion reactors — still appear to be struggling to become commercially viable, raising serious questions as to whether those technologies could play a legitimate role in the state by the 2035 goal — a mere eleven years away.

Small Modular Nuclear Reactors

Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, or SMRs, are exactly what their name sounds like: taking large nuclear power plants and downsizing them to make their construction and geographic placement easier and more flexible.

Although the idea has caught a lot of hype, actual deployment of the technology has proven frustrating.

“In fact, SMRs are not forecast to hit the commercial market before 2030, and although SMRs are expected to have lower up-front capital costs per reactor, their economic competitiveness is still to be proven in practice once they are deployed at scale,” an article from the website Energy Monitor says.

An example of the real-world difficulties can be found in western states, where a recent deal to start deployment of SMRs had to be abandoned in November.

“Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS), a coalition of community-owned power systems in seven western states, withdrew from a deal to build the plant, designed by NuScale Power, because too few members agreed to buy into it,” a report from said. “The project, subsidized by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), sought to revive the moribund U.S. nuclear industry, but its cost had more than doubled to $9.3 billion.”

“To some observers, the plan’s collapse also raises questions about the feasibility of other planned advanced reactors, meant to provide clean energy with fewer drawbacks than existing reactors,” the report went on to say.

“There’s plenty of reasons to think [the other projects] are going to be even more difficult and expensive,” Edwin Lyman, a physicist and director of nuclear power safety at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told the outlet.

The Utah news created shocks in North Carolina, where the state’s largest energy producer, Duke Energy, is betting big on SMRs.

“We are disappointed that the Carbon-Free Power Project will not be moving forward but remain committed to pursuing new nuclear to provide our customers affordable, reliable and clean energy solutions and meet the growing energy needs in our communities,” the company said in response to the Utah failure.

But the same statement also noted that Duke is hoping to add “next-generation nuclear technologies starting in the mid-2030s.” 

Duke Energy already has two locations picked out for the first deployments of its anticipated fleet of SMRs and is sawing away at the permit, regulatory, and transmission issues right now. Pennsylvania knows none or very few of those things, making 2035 seem unrealistic.

Fusion Reactors

If SMRs face long odds to be in the state’s portfolio by 2035, fusion reactors may be an even longer shot.

A small scientific breakthrough in 2022 rekindled imaginations of a power source that would largely be emissions free and radically drop costs. 

“But it turns out that fusion power is … hard. Really hard. Really complicated,” an article from says. “Full of unexpected pitfalls and traps. We’ve been trying to build fusion generators for three-quarters of a century, and we’ve made a lot of progress — enormous, groundbreaking, horizon-expanding progress. But we’re not there yet. Fusion power has been one of those things that’s been ‘only 20 years away’ for about 50 years now.”

An undated “FAQ” page from the International Atomic Energy Agency provides an optimistic yet tame forecast.

“A prototype of a fusion reactor (DEMO) is expected to be built by 2040. Electricity generation and exploitation is also expected to take place in the second half of the century, depending on funding and technical advancement.”

With a prototype only being deployed by 2040, it beggars belief that the technology could play a meaningful role in the state’s clean energy portfolio by 2035.

“If Governor Shapiro is going to overthrow Pennsylvania’s competitive market for electricity, he should at least tell us where the power will come from and how much each source will generate,” said David N. Taylor, President and CEO of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association.

“The governor’s mandate would monopolize half of Pennsylvania’s electricity market for his chosen power sources, so how many small modular nuclear reactors will be online in the commonwealth by 2035? Who will build them? Where will they be located? How much generation will they add to the grid? When will nuclear fusion be discovered and by whom?

 “If Governor Shapiro intends to mandate the usage of these sources, he should be able to answer these questions.”

A request for comment to Governor Shapiro’s office was not returned.

Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward who sits on the Senate Environment and Energy Committee, also says she has more questions than answers. For example, she says Shapiro’s proposal to mix in federal dollars is one of those areas.

“Shapiro has offered no detail or explanation of where exactly the federal funding will come from, nor does he address how it will be used, or confirm if it will be sustainable,” Ward said. “More importantly, do these federal dollars come with strings attached, such as labor union requirements, DEI, or other items? It all seems to be cobbled together in a quagmire. Shapiro plays this quagmire off as if it is visionary. Instead it is murky and built on a house of cards.”

A request for comment to two Democrat members of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee about SMRs and fusion were not returned.

Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter. Send him tips at, or use his encrypted email at @shepherdreports

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