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With Palisades shutdown, Michigan loses ‘clean’ power producer

 A little more than a month away from Palisades Nuclear Plant’s retirement date, the community is in the middle of an effort to quantify the plant closure’s impact on their economy — and on the electric grid.

When the 811-megawatt plant goes offline May 31, Consumers Energy, which buys power from the Entergy-owned plant, will lose a resource that currently represents about 10 percent of Consumers Energy’s peak load capacity.

Consumers Energy plans to replace that lost capacity with a mix of investments in natural gas plants, a massive, solar energy capacity, electric system upgrades, energy efficiency programs and battery storage as part of its broader, long-term plan to wean off coal plants and go green.

The headlines of that plan are the investment in 8,000 MW of solar by 2040, with solar and wind generating 60 percent of electric capacity at that point.

In the short-term, the company plans to buy four natural gas plants to replace lost coal and nuclear capacity while solar and wind resources can be built out. In 2025, Consumers’ proposed energy portfolio would be 40 percent natural gas and 35 percent renewable.

“These plans all together will help ensure we are able to continue to deliver reliable, clean, affordable energy for Michigan during this historic clean energy transformation,” said Joshua Paciorek, the company’s West Michigan spokesperson.

The Michigan Public Service Commission, which is responsible for ensuring Michigan has enough resources to meet electric needs, is comfortable with the state’s ability to meet electric load needs without Palisades online, though MPSC Chair Dan Scripps noted the commission does have concerns about losing Palisades before its operating license expires in 2031.

Palisades is responsible for about 5.6 percent of the state’s total electric production and can produce power reliably around the clock and in every season. Nuclear power is also a source of carbon dioxide emissions-free power, though it’s generally not counted as a “renewable” energy source because nuclear fuel must be mined and is only used once (in the U.S. — other countries, like France, reuse nuclear fuel).

When Entergy and Consumers first proposed a plan to retire the plant in 2018, MPSC didn’t agree to allow Consumers to recover the full cost of the buyout of its contract to buy power from Palisades, and the deal to close the plant in 2018 fell through.

Scripps said nuclear resources like Palisades seem to be undervalued in the market, and the MPSC finds it “unfortunate” that market conditions — Consumers has said it can buy electricity more cheaply on the market than from its purchase agreement with Entergy — are causing plants like Palisades that supply reliable, carbon-free electricity to close.

“The statewide energy assessment that came after the polar vortex in the winter of 2019 ultimately found that resources like Palisades have a lot of value and that not all of that value is adequately compensated, that some of the things it can do, providing that baseload power, the carbon-neutral piece of nuclear, that those just don’t show up in the market, they’re not fully valued at this point,” Scripps said. “Those concerns continue.”

Pro-nuclear climate activists have protested the shutdown of Palisades and urged Michigan’s governor and the state legislature to intervene, arguing the state is losing a reliable source of clean energy with the closure.

Source: The Holland Sentinel