Allen and Browner: Palisades Nuclear Plant promises clean power

Todd Allen and Carol Browner | The Detroit News
Aug. 14, 2023

Last April, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced an ambitious Healthy Climate Plan to secure clean, affordable, reliable energy for Michiganians for decades to come.

Just a month later, enough clean energy to power hundreds of thousands of homes in Michigan disappeared when the Palisades nuclear power plant closed after five decades in operation.

Michigan’s fortunes recently took a turn for the better when Whitmer signed the Michigan state budget into law, approving an investment of $150 million proposed by state lawmakers to repower the Palisades nuclear power plant.

This important investment in our nation’s largest source of clean energy bolsters Michigan’s chances to reconfirm its commitment to a carbon-free electric grid and reap the economic benefits of nuclear power.

Much like the 93 nuclear power plants currently in operation across the country, Palisades served as an economic engine for surrounding communities for decades.

The plant provided 600 full-time, highly skilled, good-paying jobs in Southwest Michigan, operating as one of the largest employers in Van Buren County. The plant also contributed millions of dollars in tax revenue which directly supported vital public services.

A study by the Economic Growth Institute at the University of Michigan found the shutdown of Palisades resulted in the annual loss of more than $250 million in labor income and value added for the tri-county region. A loss of this magnitude is made even more significant by the myriad challenges associated with the state’s ongoing economic recovery in the wake of the pandemic.

Of course, Palisades’ premature closure did not happen in a vacuum. Energy companies and lawmakers at every level of government have yet to find their balance on the tightrope of accelerating progress toward climate goals while maintaining affordability and reliability for customers in the face of increasingly frequent and severe weather events.

Palisades provided enough clean, reliable generation to power 800,000 homes. Alongside the expansion of renewable energy sources like wind and solar, this significant output of always-on energy played a pivotal role in cutting greenhouse gas emissions in Michigan, reducing the environmental and health impacts of fossil fuels to which disadvantaged communities are most vulnerable.

The prospect of Palisades’ revival is a harbinger of hope for these communities, Michigan, and the nation. Nuclear power has recently enjoyed a resurgence in recognition of the many benefits it offers — to our environment, our economy, and our national security.

A flurry of clean energy legislation in states across the country and investments made in the existing nuclear fleet by the Inflation Reduction Act illustrate our elected leaders’ commitment to using every tool in our toolbox to combat the climate crisis and keep the lights on.

Work done by the Fastest Path to Zero initiative at the University of Michigan reinforces the need to build our clean energy future with communities at the center by deploying energy sources that spur community investment, generate economic development, and grow the workforce of tomorrow.

As Palisades illustrates, nuclear energy checks every box.

Reopening a modernized Palisades would revitalize the state’s grid with reliable clean energy for decades to come, serving as a model for communities across the nation to follow.

A former EPA administrator and professor of nuclear engineering might seem like an odd pair to some, but we share one core belief: Existing nuclear power must continue to play a pivotal role in building our nation’s carbon-free energy future.

We are encouraged by the bipartisan support for Palisades in Michigan, but we know there is more work to be done.

Carol M. Browner is the former director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy, former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and a member of the Nuclear Matters Advocacy Council.

Todd Allen is the chair for Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences at the University of Michigan and executive director of Fastest Path to Zero, an initiative that supports communities as they plan for and pursue full decarbonization.