Expert: Nuclear energy could help decarbonize electricity sector



(The Center Square) – Michigan’s top business group says “we can’t get” to the 100% clean energy standard by 2040 without nuclear energy.

The Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, bipartisan lawmakers and organized labor support restarting the 800-megawatt Palisades nuclear plant on Lake Michigan’s Eastern shore, expected to return online in 2025.

Edward Kee, CEO and founder of the Nuclear Economics Consulting Group, said nuclear energy could help decarbonize the electricity industry.

“The idea is that by having some portfolio of wind and solar, hydroelectric, storage, and nuclear, you would have a zero-carbon electricity sector,” Kee said in a phone interview. “You can’t have electricity the way we know it – highly reliable and always available – if you only have these intermittent renewables.”

Wind and solar provide intermittent energy when the sun shines and the wind blows but don’t provide the constant baseload energy created by nuclear plants.

In 2022, transportation accounted for 28% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by sector nationwide, followed by electric power at 25% and other industries at 23%, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Kee, appointed to the federal Nuclear Energy Advisory Committee in 2022 and 2024, called restarting Palisades “valuable” to forge a regulatory path to restart roughly 11 other nuclear plants that have been closed but not dismantled.

If successful, Palisades will be the first decommissioned nuclear plant to reconnect to the grid fueled by a $1.5 billion loan from the U.S. Department of Energy and $300 million from Michigan.

In March, Whitmer said Palisades will provide “clean, reliable power” for 800,000 homes and provide 600 jobs.

Michigan enacted a 100% clean energy standard by 2040 but the U.S. Energy Information Administration says renewables provided 12% of state electricity net generation in 2022. Wind energy accounted for about two-thirds of that power.

Mike Alaimo, MCC director of environmental and energy affairs, ranked nuclear’s role in the energy transition as “extremely high.”

“Extremely high, in fact, I would go so far as to say we can’t get there without it,” Alaimo wrote.

Jason Hayes, director of energy and environmental policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said government mandates to build “unreliable wind and solar is destabilizing our electric grid” and exposing Midwesterners to electricity shortages and higher utility bills.

“Bringing a completely reliable generation source like the Palisades nuclear plant back online is essential to maintaining a reliable grid and ensuring that Midwesterners have access to reliable energy, especially during periods of extreme weather,” Hayes said in a statement.

State Rep. Graham Filler, R-Clinton County, said the idea Michigan can replace the energy load created by natural gas and coal with wind and solar is “completely unrealistic.”

Filler said nuclear energy provides around 25% Michigan’s energy from two reactors.

“It’s the past, the present, and the future when you talk about reliable, powerful, clean energy,” Filler said in a phone interview.

Holtec Decommissioning International, the company that bought Palisades, has signed a long-term power purchase agreement with two energy cooperatives – Wolverine, based in Cadillac, and Hoosier Energy, according to Nick Culp, the Senior Manager of Government Affairs and Communications.

Both energy cooperatives are part of the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, which manages high-flow electricity across 15 states and the Canadian Province of Manitoba.

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