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West Michigan Palisades nuclear plant to shut down in 2018

Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio
Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in Covert, MI

Michigan's Palisades nuclear power plant is shutting down.

Entergy Corporation, the owner, made the decision after Consumers Energy, which had been purchasing the electricity from Palisades, ended its contract with Entergy early.

"The contract....is higher than market," says Consumers' Dan Bishop.  "It's more expensive than other sources in the market, so agreeing to end that contract early could save Consumers Energy electric customers as much as $172 million."

Consumers will also pay Entergy $172 million for the early termination of the contract.

Bishop says Consumers has access to enough sources of energy to replace what it gets from Palisades, including wind farms and its own natural gas plant in Jackson. 

He says so many coal-burning plants are being shut down in Michigan that closing Palisades should have no effect on the state's compliance with the Clean Power Plan, which requires the state to reduce its carbon emissions by about 30% by the year 2030.

But the shutdown is a potentially devastating blow to the local economy of Covert, a small town in West Michigan near South Haven.  The plant employs about 600 workers, and it also attracts large numbers of temporary workers at certain times.

Entergy will provide $8 million in economic development funds over several years to help the region; the Consumers Energy Foundation will provide $2 million.

In a statement, Governor Rick Snyder says the Michigan Public Service Commission will look at the shutdown very closely, given the implications for the reliability of electricity in Michigan, as well as protection of the environment. 

"No matter what the eventual decision is, it is important that we do everything to help the region adapt to a potential future without Palisades," says Snyder.  "The responsible thing to do is put a plan into action now to help our neighbors in Southwest Michigan prepare for a significant change in their communities."

Snyder says he is directing the Michigan Agency for Energy, Michigan Department of Treasury, Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and the Michigan Talent Investment Agency to help workers and the community prepare for the possible shutdown.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will oversee the potentially very long process of decommissioning the plant. 

To shut down, Palisades will first unload the nuclear fuel to its spent fuel pool.  The fuel will remain there for a certain amount of time while it becomes less radioactive.  It will then go into dry cask storage on the Palisades property.

"They don’t have to totally decommission the plant for 60 years," says NRC spokeswoman Victoria Mytling.  "They can put it in safe store condition, and the active dismantling can happen up to 60 years later."

The Palisades plant began operating in 1971.   Entergy Corporation says "the plant generates 811 megawatts of virtually carbon-free electricity, enough to power more than 800,000 homes."

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio. She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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