Whatever hopes people had for the rescue of Michigan’s Palisades nuclear power plant, it’s too late. On May 20, the plant was shut down, consuming 6.5% of the state’s electricity and 15% of the state’s clean energy. This leaves Michiganders with less reliable power and higher prices.
In a way, the closure of the plant came as no surprise. It had been planned for more than five years. The plot twist? Last month, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer spoke out in favor of keeping it open. Ms. Whitmer on April 20 sent an initial request to a Biden administration funding program aimed at extending the life of vulnerable nuclear power plants. Her request was more semblance than substance — it came after almost four years of silence about nuclear power in general and Palisades in particular. Its recently published climate plan also only mentioned nuclear power in passing and instead focused on the expansion of more and more weather-dependent renewable energies.
Ms. Whitmer knew it would be difficult to make long-term commitments to keep the plant running, but she held back on her announcement until the plant had just a few weeks left. She also knew that the operator of the facility, Entergy,
had said for years it wanted to exit the commercial nuclear power plant business. With no buyers expressing interest in operating the facility, the company remained unequivocally committed to closing Palisades, regardless of what plans Lansing or Washington had come up with.
It’s possible that Ms. Whitmer waited because there was no political disadvantage in supporting the doomed work so late in the game. Her environmental allies at the Sierra Club and elsewhere knew that no matter what her press releases might say, the plant closure was safe. But statements of support for the plant made valuable headlines and gave the Michiganders the impression that their governor was campaigning bravely to the bitter end. This is an especially important message for union members who are broadly pro-nuclear. The unionized Palisades plant alone employed 600 people, each of whom represents a potentially crucial voice in a swing state.
The closure of Palisades puts the state in a precarious position. Now Michigan is dealing with the sudden loss of the more than seven million megawatt-hours of electricity the plant produced in 2021. It will also have to cope with the shutdown of the nearby Campbell coal-fired power plant within the next few years. As environmentalists cheer the closures, Michigan consumers and businesses will deal with the fallout in higher tariffs for less-reliable power services. Running existing coal and nuclear plants is, on average, two to three times cheaper than building new wind and solar plants, but Michigan utilities still choose the latter, more expensive and less reliable option.
Decades of mandates and subsidies mean Michigan has a rapidly growing supply of solar panels and more than 1,500 wind turbines. Together, however, they still cannot produce as much electricity as the Palisades plant alone. There is no economically viable way to increase wind or solar power to replace lost energy, let alone meet the state’s increasing energy needs.
Incidentally, there is no apparent acknowledgment from the governor’s office that wind and sun are entirely dependent on the weather. They must have a sufficient reserve from nuclear, coal and gas power plants on cloudy, windless days when turbines and solar panels produce nothing. Yet it is the reliable sources of energy that are being targeted for closure today.
A different, more sensible approach is needed as rolling blackouts loom. The Midcontinent Independent System Operator, which controls electrical transmission infrastructure in Michigan and 15 other states and the province of Manitoba, warned in April that “regularly available generation” might not be able to meet electricity demands this summer.
A recent report by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation echoed that dire warning, describing a “high risk of power emergencies during peak summer conditions” across much of the country. The NERC and MISO alerts show we are returning to the tactics of our ancestors: praying for the right weather so we can make it through hot summers and cold winters. Closing down reliable generation stations like the Palisades facility will ensure these fervent prayers become more frequent.
These are the contradictions of the climate agenda. It calls for more clean energy but is putting clean nuclear power out of business. It promises reliability and low costs, but leaves families and job seekers wondering if the lights are staying on and hoping their bills don’t get higher. And as Michigan proves, it pushes politicians to turn to harmful policies and then pretend they are taking steps to solve the very problems they created.
Mr. Hayes is Director of Environmental Policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.
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https://www.wsj.com/articles/why-electricity-blackouts-are-coming-to-michigan-nuclear-power-plant-green-energy-renewable-climate-11653685521 Why Electricity Blackouts Are Coming to Michigan