News Story

Whitmer requests federal aid to reopen Palisades nuclear plant, but Granholm says no

Palisades nuclear plant supplied 15% of Michigan’s clean energy

Does it help, having friends in high places? It might if you’re angling to be the first one to get your boat into the water next spring. But having the governor in your corner — or the Energy Secretary in her corner — appears to have done nothing to help a struggling nuclear plant in the southwest corner of Michigan.

To be fair, the plant might have had a better chance if Gov. Gretchen Whitmer had voiced her support earlier in the multi-year plan to close the plant.

Entergy, the plant’s owner, announced in 2016 that they intended to close the plant as early as 2018. But Whitmer waited until the plant’s final days before suddenly determining that “keeping Palisades open [was] a top priority.”

In a September news release, she lauded the plant and nuclear energy as an essential way to “keep energy costs low, shore up domestic energy production, and increase Michigan’s competitiveness for future economic development.”

Whitmer described how continued operation of the plant would empower economic opportunity, protect 1,700 local jobs, continue to produce “enough clean, reliable energy in Michigan to power hundreds of thousands of homes and small businesses.”

Even with Whitmer’s support, the plant owner Holtec International’s bid to secure federal funds to resume operations at Palisades failed when former Michigan governor and now U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm denied Holtec’s request.

Despite the setback, Holtec spokesman Pat O’Brien expressed appreciation for “the consideration that the Department of Energy (DOE) put into our application for the Civilian Nuclear Credit program.” O’Brien understood their proposal to re-start “a shuttered nuclear plant, would be both a challenge and a first for the nuclear industry.”

Only a few days later, the Department of Energy conditionally approved $1.1 billion in funding to continue operations of California’s Diablo Canyon nuclear plant.

Granholm supported the federal bailout of California’s plant, arguing the spending is a “critical step toward ensuring that our domestic nuclear fleet will continue providing reliable and affordable power to Americans as the nation’s largest source of clean electricity.”

The Mackinac Center officially has mixed feelings about this issue, for two reasons.

The first reason is that the Palisades Plant should never have been closed in the first place. The standard argument claims that nuclear plants around the nation are being targeted for early closure because they are having “trouble competing” with low-priced renewable energy.

But any business would have trouble competing with an industry that receives billions in federal handouts each year to produce a still-inconsequential portion of the nation’s total energy use. Warren Buffet clarified the real reason for building renewables when he stated that subsidies were the only reason he’d invest in wind turbines. Buffet explained: “They don’t make sense without the tax credit.”

Headlines reporting that nuclear struggles to compete often gloss over the fact that there’s more to dropping prices for wind and solar than improved efficiency. The primary reason for their lower prices are because the American taxpayer is making up much of the difference.

Lower prices are also possible because the majority of the world’s supply of polysilicon for solar panels and many solar components come from China. China heavily subsidizes their domestic solar industry, compounding the market distortions just discussed. Chinese regulations governing the release of toxic chemicals and air pollutants are also less strict than North American regulations, and Chinese manufacturing of solar components is powered by ever more coal. But that energy source is being rapidly shuttered in North America and Europe.

Western greens lie to themselves and to us when they point to decreased pollution as an essential part of a transition from fossil fuels to solar in North America. The pollution they claim to avoid has simply been offshored so other people and nations deal with it.

Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Commerce warns that “Intellectual property infringement and theft is widespread in China” and Chinese regulations often require foreign companies to “share their IP” with regulators before they are allowed to operate in China. In both cases, western companies operate at a distinct competitive disadvantage when their trade secrets are forcibly shared with competitors.

Lastly, and most importantly, the U.S. Department of Labor has added Chinese polysilicon to the list of items the Labor Bureau “has reason to believe are produced by child labor or forced labor.” A recent report by the U.N. Human Rights Commission charges that the Chinese government has enslaved more than 2 million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, and Huis. Many of these people have been forcibly detained and placed into “employment schemes,” requiring them to produce polysilicon and solar components.

Into simple terms, Chinese solar products have much lower prices due to the use of slavery, subsidies, IP theft, and lax environmental regulations. No serious review of these conditions can claim this either a moral or competitive option.

The Mackinac Center’s second concern is far more succinct: Two wrongs don’t make a right.

Ladling billions in additional subsidies from the Civil Nuclear Credit program to prop up failing nuclear plants is a wasteful and regressive policy option. A far more simple and sensible solution would be to remove the subsidies propping up wind and solar and allow all energy sources to compete on a transparent and level playing field.

If this policy option were chosen, we would not have endangered the operations of a plant which provided 6.5% of Michigan’s total power supply, and 15% of its emissions-free electricity.

Palisades could have continued to supply reliable, clean, and safe electricity supplies for at least the last nine years that remained on its operating license, if not many more.

Instead, by closing reliable generation and focusing ever more of our energy supply on weather-dependent renewables, we deliberately choose to leave ourselves vulnerable to “cloudy, windless days.”'

Jason Hayes is director of environmental policy at The Mackinac Center. James David Dickson is editor of Michigan Capitol Confidential.

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.