Mixed opinions offered at Palisades hearing

Barbara Pellegrini, a Hagar Township resident, voices her concerns to the Michigan Public Service Commission during a public meeting Monday at the Van Buren Conference Center in Lawrence about Consumers Energy’s proposal to end its power purchase agreement with Palisades nuclear power plant.

LAWRENCE — The future of the Palisades nuclear power plant remains somewhat unclear, as state regulators must still sign off on Consumers Energy's request to terminate its power purchase agreement with Palisades owner Entergy Corp.

Members of the public got their chance to weigh in on the issue Monday at a pair of Michigan Public Service Commission public hearings.

MPSC is the state regulatory body charged with ensuring safe, reliable energy and telecommunication services at reasonable rates. One of its key functions is to regulate electricity rates of companies such as Consumers Energy, MPSC Chairman Sally Talberg said.

Consumers Energy entered into a 15-year power purchase contract with Entergy Corporation, the owner of Palisades, that was approved by the MPSC in 2007 and is set to expire in 2022.

When Entergy announced plans last December to close the plant in October 2018, it was essentially agreeing to end this contract, Talberg said.

In February, Consumers Energy filed an application with MPSC to recover its costs for the early buyout of the contract. They want to do this through the utility rates its customers pay over several years, using a kind of financing under Michigan law.

It is alleged by Consumers Energy, Talberg said, that even with factoring in that buyout payment, it would still be a cost savings for customers if they end the contract in 2018, instead of 2022.

“We will evaluate whether there is cost savings for customers, the liability impacts if the contract is ended early and what sort of replacement options are available to ensure reliable power supplies,” Talberg said.

MPSC members will hold formal hearings in Lansing in June and reach a decision by August, she said.

The meeting on Monday featured comments from those who support closing the plant due to safety concerns associated with nuclear power, along with comments from those who want the contract to continue until the original end date.

Barbara Pellegrini, Hagar Township, said she was there to speak on behalf of her family and the people who live on Evergreen Lane. The street is at the edge of the mandatory evacuation zone for Palisades, she said.

The group strongly supports the decision to decommission the plant and is concerned about an increasing amount of accidents, what will be done with the nuclear waste, and the reemployment of the nearly 600 plant employees.

“All those years ago, my husband and I walked the beach and watched the thrill of the plant going up. It was science at its best at a time when there was talk of pollution in the air and high gas prices,” Pellegrini said. “It’s true that over time technology wears out. The time has come.”

Ann Scott, who lives in Palisades Park Country Club right next to the plant, shares many of Pellegrini’s concerns.

She said when the plant was built she thought it would be a good relationship, but it hasn’t been very good.

Scott told a story of witnessing an incident last summer when the plant released a large amount of dead muscles into the lake, which is routine, but caused some freaking out by her and her neighbors.

“They didn’t make an effort to inform us of what was going on until after it happened, and they had to,” Scott said.

The superintendent of Covert Schools, Bobbi Morehead, pointed out the great relationship the district has with the plant.

“They have not only provided us with numerous funds and not only actually paid their taxes, but they have also given their heart by giving backpacks and other supplies to the students,” she said. “We would like to be able to count on this reliable partner in the community that makes it easy to budget each year.”

Other speakers were more concerned about getting a plan into place before the plant is closed, and not allowing Consumers Energy out of its contract. 

Karl Andrews of South Haven, a retired Consumers Energy engineer, said Consumers needs to be held accountable. 

“They need to explain in every little detail why they are harmed by this. There has been very little information from Consumers and Entergy on really why they want this,” Andrews said. “It’s a huge loss to the community.” 

During the afternoon meeting about 20 people offered their opinions to the MPSC, while about 100 people were in attendance. 

Talberg said anyone who wants to make a written comment may do so by sending a letter, referencing the case number 18250, to Michigan Public Service Commission, PO Box 30221, Lansing, MI 48909.

Contact: anewman@TheHP.com, 932-0357, Twitter: @HPANewman

A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the MPSC's role in overseeing the proposal to shutter the Palisades plant.