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Mich. House leader calls on grid operator to stop Palisades nuke closure

A Michigan state lawmaker is imploring the region's grid operator and others to safeguard jobs and grid reliability by preventing the early retirement of Entergy Corp.'s 820-MW Palisades nuclear power plant as pro-nuclear activists also warn of increased emissions if the facility is shut down.

Rep. Aric Nesbitt, Michigan state House majority leader and chair of the House Committee on Energy Policy, sent letters to Entergy, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator Inc. and CMS Energy Corp. utility Consumers Energy Co. explaining the damage the early shuttering of the nuclear plant would cause to Michigan's energy reliability and to the residents of Covert Township. Entergy on Dec. 8 announced the early termination of a 15-year power purchase agreement between Consumers Energy and Palisades and the planned Oct. 1, 2018, closure of the nuclear plant, which under its operating license could continue running through 2031.

Nesbitt, R-Lawton, said the premature ending of the power purchase agreement before 2022 puts Michigan's energy future at risk as the state's reliability has been greatly diminished by the shuttering of numerous coal power plants. The Palisades plant's closure also would mean the loss of hundreds of local jobs, he said.

The legislator urged MISO President and CEO John Bear to reject Entergy's plan. "MISO is well aware that our state faces serious reliability issues in the near term, with it being a very real possibility that Michigan would be dark in 10 years if we fail to address these issues," Nesbitt said. If MISO finds that the loss of Palisades threatens reliability, the grid operator could recommend that the retirement of the facility be postponed.

Nesbitt, who said in the letters that his legislative colleagues are working on energy legislation to ensure electric reliability, scolded the utility and plant operator for terminating the power purchase agreement early. "Their actions will not only put access to reliable energy at risk, but will also have an extremely damaging effect on the community where Palisades is located," he said.

CMS Energy intends to replace the Palisades' generation capacity with a mix that could include energy efficiency, demand response, new wind and natural gas, including its 750-MW combined-cycle gas-turbine Dearborn Industrial Generation plant in Wayne, Mich. The prospect of replacing emissions-free nuclear power with carbon dioxide-emitting fossil fuel-fired generation has pro-nuclear activists warning that Michigan will see increased greenhouse gas emissions following the retirement of Palisades.

"You can't replace baseload nuclear with intermittent [renewables]," Michael Shellenberger, founder of Environmental Progress, said in an interview. "It's a certainty that emissions will go up just like they go up in every state that shuts down its nuclear plants."

Environmental Progress was among the pro-nuclear activist groups that successfully lobbied for the passage of a nuclear subsidy bill in neighboring Illinois to save two uneconomic plants. This go around, Shellenberger placed the blame for the early retirement on a lack of leadership from the U.S. industry lobbying group, the Nuclear Energy Institute. "We need an industry that's going to act like a defender of nuclear and not just the short-term interests of utilities," he said. "Somebody needs to step up and provide some leadership so these plant closures come to an end."

"We should be using renewables to replace fossil, not nuclear," Heather Matteson, co-founder of the Mothers for Nuclear activist group, said in a statement. Matteson works as an emergency procedure coordinator at the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant in California, which isshuttering early due to lower electricity prices spurred by the state's renewables standard and cheap natural gas.

Matteson warned that replacing Palisades with a combined-cycle gas-turbine plant will be particularly harmful to the environment as peaking plants emit more than other gas plants. She also dismissed the inclusion of energy efficiency and demand response in CMS Energy's potential replacement capacity mix since "most people and industries have little to no control over when they use power, and instead of shifting habits, they will just pay more for their power."

"We need to be examining all the impacts of all the technologies when deciding how to go forward and power our energy-hungry growing population," Matteson said. "People will need more power, not less."