Keeping Nuclear Plants Operating

April 25, 2022

Solving the nuclear conundrum. Above, acknowledging that the US is dependent on foreign sources of Uranium, including Russia. Recycling waste proposed as an option, but I have questions. Siting issues for such a facility comes to mind.
Below, Biden administration will provide subsidies to keep existing plants from closing. I’ve posted a story about one such plant in the upper midwest, the Palisades plant in South Haven, MI.

Houston Chronicle:

The Department of Energy opened up a $6 billion fundWednesday to prevent more U.S. nuclear power plants from closing, as they seek to preserve the nation’s largest source of carbon-free electricity.

Nuclear power plants have been shutting down in recent years, as they grow more expensive to maintain and face more competition from low-cost wind and solar power, along with natural gas-fired plants.

“U.S. nuclear power plants contribute more than half of our carbon-free electricity, and President (Joe) Biden is committed to keeping these plants active to reach our clean energy goals,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a statement.. “We’re using every tool available to get this country powered by clean energy by 2035.”

The United States has the world’s largest nuclear fleet with 93 reactors, supplying 20 percent of the nation’s power needs. Since 2012 12 nuclear plants have closed, with another seven retirements scheduled through 2025, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The fund, the Civil Nuclear Credit Program, stems from the passage of last year’s $1 trillion infrastructure bill, which contained more than $100 billion in funding for clean energy development, from hydrogen fuel to advanced batteries.

Nuclear plants that have already announced plans to close would be favored to receive funding, the Energy Department said. Companies have until May 19 to apply.

“Quick, decisive action is what we needed from the department, and that is what they have delivered,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement. “We have taken the reliability and resiliency of our nuclear fleet for granted and it is about time we acted to preserve these vital assets.” 

Holland Sentinel (Michigan):

A little more than a month away from Palisades Nuclear Plant’s retirement date, the community is in the middle of an effort to quantify the plant closure’s impact on their economy — and on the electric grid.

When the 811-megawatt plant goes offline May 31, Consumers Energy, which buys power from the Entergy-owned plant, will lose a resource that currently represents about 10 percent of Consumers Energy’s peak load capacity.

Consumers Energy plans to replace that lost capacity with a mix of investments in natural gas plants, a massive, solar energy capacity, electric system upgrades, energy efficiency programs and battery storage as part of its broader, long-term plan to wean off coal plants and go green.

The headlines of that plan are the investment in 8,000 MW of solar by 2040, with solar and wind generating 60 percent of electric capacity at that point.

In the short-term, the company plans to buy four natural gas plants to replace lost coal and nuclear capacity while solar and wind resources can be built out. In 2025, Consumers’ proposed energy portfolio would be 40 percent natural gas and 35 percent renewable.

“These plans all together will help ensure we are able to continue to deliver reliable, clean, affordable energy for Michigan during this historic clean energy transformation,” said Joshua Paciorek, the company’s West Michigan spokesperson.

The Michigan Public Service Commission, which is responsible for ensuring Michigan has enough resources to meet electric needs, is comfortable with the state’s ability to meet electric load needs without Palisades online, though MPSC Chair Dan Scripps noted the commission does have concerns about losing Palisades before its operating license expires in 2031.

Palisades is responsible for about 5.6 percent of the state’s total electric production and can produce power reliably around the clock and in every season. Nuclear power is also a source of carbon dioxide emissions-free power, though it’s generally not counted as a “renewable” energy source because nuclear fuel must be mined and is only used once (in the U.S. — other countries, like France, reuse nuclear fuel).

When Entergy and Consumers first proposed a plan to retire the plant in 2018, MPSC didn’t agree to allow Consumers to recover the full cost of the buyout of its contract to buy power from Palisades, and the deal to close the plant in 2018 fell through.

Scripps said nuclear resources like Palisades seem to be undervalued in the market, and the MPSC finds it “unfortunate” that market conditions — Consumers has said it can buy electricity more cheaply on the market than from its purchase agreement with Entergy — are causing plants like Palisades that supply reliable, carbon-free electricity to close.

“The statewide energy assessment that came after the polar vortex in the winter of 2019 ultimately found that resources like Palisades have a lot of value and that not all of that value is adequately compensated, that some of the things it can do, providing that baseload power, the carbon-neutral piece of nuclear, that those just don’t show up in the market, they’re not fully valued at this point,” Scripps said. “Those concerns continue.”

Pro-nuclear climate activists have protested the shutdown of Palisades and urged Michigan’s governor and the state legislature to intervene, arguing the state is losing a reliable source of clean energy with the closure.

Consumers — and Michigan overall — has shown it can meet its power needs over the next few years without Palisades.

The company is required by law to submit proof to the MPSC each year that it has enough power lined up to meet demand for the next four years, whether from its own generating sources, contracts with other power plants or purchases from the market.

It also has to submit its long-term plans for meeting energy needs to the MPSC for their review and approval. Consumers’ most recent submittal, which calls for the early closure of Port Sheldon’s J.H. Campbell plant, is currently under review by the commission with a decision expected soon.

However, Michigan is also part of a larger regional gird, and a red flag for the region appeared this week when the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, the organization that operates the electric grid for 15 Midwest states including Michigan, announced a 1,230 MW-shortfall in capacity in the north/central region, which includes Michigan.

The shortfall exposes the area to a “slightly increased risk” that power providers would need to implement load shedding, or temporary power outages to reduce power demand, in an emergency situation, according to MISO.

MISO’s report, dated April 14, notes the region needs to address loss of high-reliability sources like coal and nuclear and their replacement with sources like solar and wind.

“To be clear, they’re not saying that we’re in this position because Palisades is closing, but there are a number of units across the region retiring, and some retiring faster than anticipated, and so we’re now in a position where the region as a whole could use the energy,” Scripps said. “The likelihood across the whole region that we’d experience grid outages, blackouts, goes up. I don’t want to overstate that risk, but it’s a higher risk than we’ve seen in the past, and it just highlights the role of keeping these types of resources on.”

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