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Owner says Palisades nuclear plant closed for good. Michigan has other ideas

power plant
Katherine Peretick, a member of the Michigan Public Service Commission, said the state is in serious talks with a company that is interested in buying the Palisades nuclear plant. The plant closed Friday, 11 days ahead of a long-planned shutdown as its owner seeks to exit the merchant power business. (Bridge photo by Kelly House)

June 3: Nuclear power is having a moment in Michigan after Palisades

Palisades nuclear power plant shut down for what its owner calls “the final time” on Friday, but Michigan officials say they still hope to rescue the facility near South Haven.

Val Gent, a spokesperson for Entergy Nuclear, said company officials made the decision to close the plant 11 days ahead of the planned May 31 shutdown “due to the performance of a control rod drive seal” at the 51-year-old facility.

Gent did not elaborate when Bridge Michigan asked for more information.

Related: Weeks before closure, Whitmer aims to save Michigan Palisades nuclear plant

“The final shutdown marks the end of more than 50 successful years of safe, secure, and reliable generation of clean, carbon-free electricity at Palisades,” Gent said in an emailed statement, adding that the plant is now slated for a “safe and timely decommissioning.”

The Covert Township plant, located on Lake Michigan’s shoreline, employs 600 people. The company said 130 have secured other jobs at Entergy, while another 260 will work on the decommissioning and about half of the remaining employees will retire.

Palisades officials said Friday they’ll soon transfer the plant to Holtec Decommissioning International, a company that plans to dismantle it and stow away its radioactive waste.

Still, Michigan energy regulators say they’re not giving up hope of finding a new buyer for Palisades with help from a $6 billion pool of federal credits aimed at rescuing financially struggling nuclear plants.

Katherine Peretick, a member of the Michigan Public Service Commission that regulates utilities, said the state is in serious talks with a company interested in buying the plant. 

She declined to reveal more details, but said prolonging the plant’s lifespan would be “a big deal for the state and a big deal for that part of western Michigan.”

Peretick said those involved in Michigan’s discussions had anticipated that, if a deal goes through, it would not come together until after the Palisades’ shutdown date. The Biden administration’s federal credits can be used to keep staff on payrolls during a production lapse, Peretick has said.

The U.S. Department of Energy on Wednesday extended the deadline for nuclear plant operators to apply for those rescue funds until July 5 — 47 days longer than the previous May 19 deadline.

The scramble to save Palisades comes as the administration of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer strives to help make Michigan go carbon neutral by 2050. Major Michigan utilities, which have their own net zero goals, are focused primarily on expanding wind and solar generation to meet the bar. 

Nuclear is now Michigan’s state’s biggest source of emissions-free energy, comprising 29 percent of all electricity used in the state. Palisades’ 800-megawatt generating capacity is enough to power hundreds of thousands of homes.

For now, Consumers Energy, which purchased power from Palisades to fuel about 10 percent of its peak demand, plans to use a mix of renewables, natural gas, coal, and power purchased from outside providers to continue delivering power despite Palisades’ closure.

“Nuclear power plants are not the best value in the current market, which is why many operators like Entergy have made the decision to leave the nuclear business,” Consumers spokesperson Josh Paciorek said. “At times, electricity generated by Palisades cost roughly 57 percent more per megawatt hour than the market price.”

The shutdown comes a day after the state House passed a bill that would require the Michigan Public Service Commission to hire an outside firm to study increasing nuclear production in Michigan. That bill now heads to the Senate.

In a statement last month, bill sponsor Rep. Graham Filler, R-St. Johns, said the Russian invasion of Ukraine underscores the need for U.S. energy independence, which nuclear power can help provide without the emissions of fossil fuel-burning plants.

“Modern technology in the nuclear energy field allows for much smaller reactors and better safety features,” Filler said. “There’s a lot of potential there that we should be exploring as a state.”

Peretick said the Public Service Commission has taken no position on the bill, but has long taken the position that Palisades should stay open through the life of its operating license, which expires in 2031.

Palisades is one of three nuclear plants in Michigan, in addition to American Electric Power’s Donald C. Cook plant in Berrien County and DTE’s Fermi 2 plant in Monroe County.

Entergy had originally planned to close Palisades in 2018, but extended its operating life to 2022 after state regulators denied a proposed buyout that was crucial to the planned closure. 

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