Palisades has been closed: Final thoughts and regrets

Members of the Climate Coalition have drafted a brief statement regarding the closure of Palisades by Entergy, its owner, despite widespread efforts to save the plant by Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm and hundreds of individuals and some organizations, including the Climate Coalition.

 

It appears that the Palisades Nuclear Generating Station in SW Michigan has permanently shut down, unless some undisclosed 11th-hour move breathes life into the facility in the next few days and weeks. It bears repeating that we are losing a perfectly functional nuclear plant with nine years remaining on its operating license.

What have we learned from this experience? It is abundantly clear that the “deregulated” market in which Palisades operates is the primary factor driving this decision to close. We know this to be true because if the primary determinant were to best serve the common good, there is more than enough justification for the plant to remain in operation:

  • MISO, the grid operator, is projecting a capacity shortfall of 4.1 GW for their Northern region in 2022-2023, with blackouts a possibility.
  • The Michigan Public Service Commission prefers that Palisades remain online for reasons of reliability (but is apparently powerless to enforce this).
  • Michigan has a Healthy Climate Plan that sets emissions goals for the state, yet Palisades will be replaced mostly by fossil gas plants, and some coal, as Consumers Energy has canceled its plans for early retirement of coal plants. In a giant step backward for Michigan emissions, losing Palisades is the same as demolishing almost all wind turbines in the state installed to date.
  • Fossil gas is now much more expensive than in 2017 when Entergy, Palisades’ owner, made the decision to shutter the plant. While there are several factors that contributed to this price volatility, it remains that ratepayers are on the hook for higher electricity prices, while Palisades would have contributed to more stable pricing, basically immune to the volatility that is historically associated with fossil gas prices.
  • Over 600 high-salary jobs will be lost, with a devastating impact on tax revenues for the regional economy.

Is there anything to differentiate Palisades from other premature nuclear plant closures in the last decade? Notably, the Department of Energy established a $6 billion Civil Nuclear Credit program designed specifically to save nuclear plants closing for economic reasons. To date, to all appearances it hasn’t been sufficient to alter the course of events. Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan went public with full-throated support to keep Palisades online, showing remarkable courage for a progressive politician. Pro-nuclear environmental and climate activists made concerted efforts to save Palisades, which included two open letters to state officials, signed by several hundred supporters, including many high-level academic leaders.

To be clear, Palisades is not closing because of anti-environmental activism, safety issues or facility deficiencies. The closure boils down to the supremacy of short-term profits and obligations to shareholders over the prosperity, health and welfare of our nation and its citizens. Such needless tragedies will continue unless we have the grit and courage to reform our electricity markets to prioritize the common good and long-term goals of high grid reliability, low emissions and stable, low costs, which will improve the prosperity, health and welfare of our nation and its citizens.. 

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Note:  We thank everyone who signed their names to our letters and supported our efforts to save this plant.