Four more years

The Palisades Power Plant, located in Covert Township, is pictured in 2016. The plant had been slated to close next year, but its owner and chief customer agreed to maintain their contract through 2022.

COVERT — A sigh of relief echoed through Van Buren County on Thursday morning when Entergy Corp. announced it will operate Palisades Nuclear Power Plant until the spring of 2022.

The announcement reverses Entergy’s December 2016 decision to close Palisades on Oct. 1, 2018.

Covert Public Schools Superintendent Bobbi Moorehead said she didn’t even know how to put the feeling into words. 

“We are so thankful that Palisades will continue to be our partner both financially, and a community partner that helps our families and district,” she said. 

As a school district that depends on the taxes from the businesses in the district, she said they are always planning for anything.

“We’ve been planning since they announced they were going to close, but this definitely gives us more time to continue to strategically plan what’s best for our students and community. We’re just super grateful for the extended time to plan and collaborate,” Moorehead said.

Covert Township Supervisor Dennis Palgen said, “It’s an exciting day for everyone. 

“Needless to say we’re extremely pleased with the decision and relieved for the 600 employees that work there. The plant closing was going to have a huge impact on them and their families, and this way they have time to prepare. We are happy in another way because they have been great neighbors to the township and we are very glad they are a part of our community.”

Van Buren County Administrator John Faul said the county considers it good news, and is happy Entergy and Consumers reached an agreement that will keep tax revenue in the county a little bit longer.

“(The companies) are good partners, and we’re happy they are continuing to be good stewards of our county,” he said. “And now we can work together to act accordingly and plan for their termination. We’re so grateful that we have an extra four years to plan.”

That same excitement was shared by elected officials who sent email statements on Thursday.

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, said he was delighted to hear the news.

“This is a welcomed announcement for the workers and the community. As a long-time supporter of safe, reliable, and secure nuclear energy, my goal all along was to make certain there was never any political interference with the operations of our nuclear facilities,” he said.

State Rep. Beth Griffin, R-Mattawan, said, “While this is great news for the short-term future of our community, I will be continuing my work with local leaders to prepare for that time when the Palisades plant does indeed close. Continuing that process now will ensure that all levels of government can prepare to serve our communities well into the future.”

A blow to anti-nuclear activists

For Kevin Kamps, of the anti-nuclear group Beyond Nuclear, Thursday was bad news. 

“The hostage takers demanded a ransom from ratepayers. MPSC did not agree to the full amount demanded. So the hostage takers have refused to release the hostages,” he said in an emailed statement. “Given the stakes for public health, safety, and the environment, Consumers and Entergy are holding residents of the region downwind and downstream hostage to the increasing risk of a meltdown and catastrophic release of hazardous radioactivity. The radioactive Russian roulette on the Great Lakes shore will go on.”

He said as objectional as it was for ratepayers to pay for the buyout of the power purchase agreement (PPA), it would have been a bargain compared to the risk of a catastrophe that comes with the operation of a nuclear power plant. 

“After Palisades suffered many significant incidents and accidents shortly after the beginning of the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe, citizen watchdogs redoubled decades-long efforts to hold feet to the fire, at Entergy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and state and federal legislatures and executive branch agencies. Our pleas and demands for protection of health, safety and the environment have, largely to entirely, fallen on deaf ears,” Kamps said. 

The decision

Entergy and Consumers’ decision Thursday means the plant will continue to operate until the PPA expires. It’s possible something could happen between now and then to keep the plant open after 2022. However, Entergy officials said they can not speculate on that, and that the company is committed to its strategy of exiting the merchant nuclear power business.

The decision to stay open was negotiated after the Michigan Public Service Commission’s order last Friday that Consumers Energy could recover only $136.6 million of the $172 million it requested for buying out the PPA.

In an email statement, Consumers Energy officials said, “After careful review, Consumers Energy and Entergy have mutually agreed that moving ahead under the terms of our current Palisades’ Power Purchase Agreement through 2022 is the best path forward. We appreciate the thoughtful, deliberate approach by all parties during the process, and remain committed to delivering affordable, reliable, safe and clean energy to our customers across Michigan.”

Charlie Arnone, site vice president and Entergy’s top official at Palisades, said Entergy will focus on the plant’s safe and reliable operations.

“Entergy will continue to make all necessary investments and maintain appropriate staffing, in accordance with strict licensing standards,” he said.

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

Having enough energy

Palisades generates 811 megawatts of virtually carbon-free electricity, enough to power more than 800,000 homes.

Part of what the MPSC had to decide when it considered the buyout agreement between Consumers and Entergy was if there would still be enough electricity to power those homes.

The commission found there would be, given available regional supplies, but stressed the importance of Consumers moving “expeditiously to finalize its plans to replace the energy and capacity from Palisades.”

In an email statement Thursday, MPSC Chairwoman Sally Talberg said the commission will continue to work with Consumers Energy on its long-term power supply planning under Michigan’s 2016 energy laws.

“This ongoing planning process will engage stakeholders and explore options to meet our energy needs in an affordable, reliable manner while protecting the environment,” she said.

The Michigan Agency for Energy (MAE), released a call for local leaders to cooperatively plan for the closing of Palisades.

“(The decision) is good news for workers at the plant and their families,” said Valerie Brader, executive director of MAE. “But that does not mean that local officials can put off making difficult decisions about how to prepare for life without the nuclear plant and the tax dollars it pumps into the local economy.”