Palisades not waiting out the clock

The Palisades Power Plant, located in Covert Township, is pictured in December 2016, when a 2018 closure seemed likely. The plant will operate into 2022.

COVERT — 2018 was set to be the end of Palisades Nuclear Power Plant, but now it’s going to be a year to make updates, repairs and refuel again.

Palisades’ future was up in the air for most of 2017, but the plant was granted a stay in September that will keep it operating for the next four years.

Over those next four years the plant is expected to continue to invest in the safe operation of the plant and keep appropriate staffing, the company reported.

“Since the announcement to continue operation of the plant, Palisades has aggressively pursued the hiring of additional staff,” Otto Gustafson, regulatory assurance and performance improvement director at Palisades, said at a public meeting in late November.

That includes new operators, maintenance personnel and instructors.

“Of note, these operators will undergo about 18 months of training to prepare for the NRC licensing exam,” Gustafson said.

He said that in addition to 160 hours of continued training, the plant offers talent and career development classes for all employees. This includes resume and job interview skills.

“The station is still closing in the spring of 2022, and we feel that is the right investment in our people to ensure that, should they like to come to Entergy for future jobs, or throughout the community, they are prepared to do so when the plant closes down,” Gustafson said.

Entergy plans to refuel Palisades in the fall of 2018 and again in 2020, Palisades Spokeswoman Val Gent said. 

When the plant refuels next fall, it will make improvements to fire protection, do general outage inspections, maintenance, upgrades to the facility and improve cybersecurity.

During the plant’s outage this year, one of the cooling towers was replaced. The $36 million project was “quite the undertaking,” engineering director Kevin O’Connor said. “It was a significant investment in the plant, but it was an investment in safety and reliability.”

The original cooling tower was 40 years old and made of redwood. The new cooling tower is built of fiberglass-reinforced plastic. It should last for as long as the plant is there, O’Connor said.

Last December, Entergy Crop. announced it would shutter the plant in fall 2018.

In February Consumer’s Energy filed an application with the Michigan Public Service Commission to end its power purchase agreement with Entergy and recover costs associated with the buyout.

The MPSC ruled in September the agreement could be terminated, but the buyout amount had to be less than requested based on the commission’s estimate on the expected savings to customers.

“The commission was not persuaded that Consumers Energy justified its request to recover from ratepayers the full $172 million payment,” MPSC Chairman Sally Talberg said at the time. “This is based in part on the uncertainty of Consumers’ plan to replace the power from Palisades with other sources and (on) expert testimony from staff and intervenors on how the savings would vary under different future scenarios and assumptions.”

Six days after the MPSC decision was announced, Entergy and Consumer’s agreed the best way to go was to finish out the power purchase agreement which goes until 2022.

Gent said Entergy has informed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) it plans to permanently close Palisades no later than May 31, 2022. It will announce an exact closure date in the future.

The plant is licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to operate until 2031.

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