News Story

Higher Emissions Ahead: Closing Nuclear Plant Here Means More CO2

Splitting atoms produces 25.5 percent of Michigan's electricity

For New England, closing a nuclear power plant in 2014 only increased the need for electricity generated by burning natural gas, driving up carbon dioxide emissions in the region. In Michigan, experts say closing one of the state’s three nuclear plants could lead to a similar outcome — increased carbon dioxide emissions.

The Entergy Corp. nuclear plant in Vermont, which accounted for 70 percent of the state’s electric generation and 4 percent of the region’s, shut down in 2014. As a result, carbon dioxide emission rates went from 726 pounds per megawatt-hour in 2014 to 747 pounds per megawatt-hour in 2015, according to the ISO New England Electric Generator Air Emissions Report.

“Carbon emissions are plummeting around the country, but New England’s increase highlights the importance of nuclear plants in the power mix as the resource currently struggles in several organized markets,” read a brief on the report by Utility Dive, an industry website.

On Dec. 8, 2016, Entergy, which owned the Vermont facility, announced it would close the Palisades nuclear plant near South Haven, which employs over 600 workers.

The Palisades plant produced about 25 percent of Michigan's nuclear-based electricity in 2015 and about 6-percent of Michigan's total electricity that year.

Thomas Ihrig, vice president of The Legacy Energy Group, an energy management firm in Frankenmuth, said the closure could lead to more carbon dioxide being released.

“If you need to replace the Palisades with new generation (which of course is the big argument now), then yes, it will increase CO2 emission in Michigan,” he said.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, as of August 2016, 25.5 percent of Michigan’s electricity came from nuclear power plants, 35.8 percent came from coal plants, and 33.8 percent of the power generated came from natural gas. Both DTE and Consumers Energy plan on phasing out coal-generated power and moving entirely to natural gas and renewable energy sources.

Jason Hayes, director of environmental policy for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said the outcome in Michigan could be similar to the outcome in New England, meaning CO2 emissions will increase.

“As Michigan nears the tentative decommissioning date for the Palisades Nuclear Plant in South Haven next year, we will face a similar challenge — to say nothing of the potential job loss and community disruptions the plant closure will cause,” he said in an email. “To the extent that Michigan is actually concerned about CO2 emissions, elected officials and energy policymakers will need to carefully consider the future of the Palisades plant. They will need to come to grips with the fact that it is not possible to shut down the state's nuclear facilities while also maintaining reliable and affordable electricity supplies and decreasing overall CO2 emissions.”

The Michigan Environmental Council did not respond to a request for comment.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.