News about Palisades – from “rocky history” to shutdown announcement and beyond
Editor’s note: Updates about Palisades Nuclear Generating Station took so much space on our News Page that we decided to move news about Palisades to a whole new page. Welcome to our “Palisades Chronology” page.
On December 9, 2016, the day after the Palisades shutdown news release, The Herald Palladium published a comprehensive timeline covering “Palisades’ rocky history.” The timeline begins a few months before the January 28, 1966, headline that hailed a new “$100 million electrical plant.” The March, 1973, timeline entry reports that “after eight years and $170 million,” Palisades got the okay to operate at full power. The Palladium’s Palisades chronology ends with the August, 2016, announcement that Anthony Vitale, who’d been in charge at Palisades for five years, was being replaced.
Our Palisades Chronology begins July, 2016 – a month before the boss got replaced.
Kalamazoo’s WWMT TV Channel 3 reports that “several” security officers are on paid leave as Palisades investigates “anomalies” – more specifically, falsified reporting. Following up on an anonymous tip from a Palisades employee, WWMT learned that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is “closely monitoring the plant’s investigation as well as the plant’s response to the situation.” When a WWMT reporter asked why the public had not been notified of the investigation, an NRC spokesperson “said the commission had no obligation to notify media.”
The “several” security staffers on paid administrative leave turns out to be 22 officers – including the anonymous tipster – as the remaining guards work 75-hour weeks. The FBI is now involved in the investigation, according to this report from Beyond Nuclear.
According to an update from WWMT Channel 3, “Palisades officials first became aware of the fire tour anomalies in early June.” NRC officials failed to mention this investigation in their June 23 Palisades review.
WWMT Channel 3 says the security officers’ union at Palisades will file a grievance if its officers face discipline. The grievance will cite “no set guidelines” and a lack of training. A Palisades spokesperson says “most” of the officers on paid leave have returned to work.
News Talk Radio 94.9 WSJM in Benton Harbor has learned that Entergy Vice President Anthony Vitale, who’s been in charge at Palisades since 2011, has been transferred to a different Entergy nuclear plant. The new chief, Charles Arnone, has twice been in charge of safety assurance at Palisades.
Maybe false, inaccurate, and delayed reporting is standard procedure for Entergy. An Entergy report correcting a false report was also false, according to Ed Bradley, Plymouth, Massachusets, Fire Chief. Bradley said that several other communications from Entergy about “odd events” at its Pilgrim nuclear plant also have been late, false, or both. Last May, Entergy was charged with submitting false reports about its Vermont Yankee plant. Here in Southwest Michigan, the investigation into false reporting at Entergy’s Palisades plant, which began in early June, was not mentioned during a June 23 NRC Palisades review. It remained unreported to the public until July 8 when a whistleblower approached WWMT Channel 3 in Kalamazoo.
Entergy and Consumers say Palisades will close permanently October 1, 2018, according to news releases Thursday morning, December 8. Entergy Nuclear is the corporate owner-operator of Palisades. Consumers Energy is the plant’s only customer. MLive published Entergy’s news release and followed up with a more detailed report. WOOD-TV 8 reported that Consumers Energy, “reached an agreement with Entergy Corporation to end its contract to purchase power from the Palisades nuclear plant earlier than expected.” The purchase agreement was originally planned to last through 2022. In 2011, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission granted Palisades a license renewal that allowed the 45-year-old, dangerously embrittled plant to operate until 2031. (See our blog post “What to watch for.”)
- “Permanent Palisades Shut Down Announcement: For anti-nuke activists, a celebration. Then what?“
- Midwest Energy News calls a Palisades bailout unlikely.
Michigan Public Service Commission sends Consumers a request for information.
Consumers submits a 99-page response to MPSC’s questions.
The Executive Committee of Sierra Club Southwest Michigan Group adopts a resolution supporting the shutdown. The resolution calls for Palisades’ closure and decommissioning to “proceed on schedule.” It also insists that “local, state, and national officials and legislators must neither offer nor consider providing financial assistance…to keep Palisades operating or to cover decommissioning and extended security costs.” As SWMG’s news release says, “No bailout for failure.” The resolution also calls for special consideration for workers left unemployed by the shutdown.
An email from Frank Zaski, Sierra Club Michigan Chapter energy expert, distilled and translated the response Consumers gave to MPSC’s questions:
“The MPSC asked CMS many questions regarding the early termination, particularly, where will the power come from? CMS answered:
The Company’s palisades PPA buyout replacement plan relies on:
- increased energy efficiency;
- increased commercial and industrial demand response;
- acceleration and increase in the size of the Cross Winds Energy Park;
- amending the Company’s existing PPA with T.E.S. Filer City; and
- continued operation of the Company’s Gaylord, Straits, and Campbell peaking combustion turbines, in total delivering 470 additional Zonal Resource Credits (“ZRCs”) by 2021.
Taken with the Company’s current forecasted capacity surplus, this plan is sufficient to meet the needs of the Company’s customers and deliver significant savings in costs compared to the continuation of the Palisades PPA.”
Not mentioned but available, added Zaski, is the 1,000 MW Indeck gas plant that will be built in Niles Mi., 44 miles from Palisades and provide electricity to the area. The DEQ signed off the Indeck air permit.
February 3, updated February 8
Entergy may consider selling Palisades to a new company that will specialize in nuclear plant decommissioning, says a February 3 Rutland (Vermont) Herald report on Entergy’s Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. More info from Utility Dive in a February 8 report.
MiBiz reports that MPSC is concerned about the financial aspects of the Palisades closure agreement and “the reliability of the grid.” MPSC wants to decide by August 31. MiBiz adds:
Unlike in states such as Illinois and New York, environmental groups in Michigan generally support closing Palisades. In those states, advocates have pushed to keep open economically struggling nuclear plants — which are challenged by low natural gas prices and increasingly cheaper renewables — by providing billions of dollars in subsidies primarily because nuclear is a virtually carbon emission-free generation source.
Anne Woiwode, conservation director for the Michigan chapter of the Sierra Club, says her group “applauds” the plant’s closure because of concerns over nuclear waste storage near the Great Lakes and a history of other environmental problems at Palisades.
Closing Palisades will improve Consumers Energy’s financial position, says CEO Patti Poppe. RTO Insider reports:
Poppe said CMS [Consumers Energy] will improve its financial position by terminating the Palisades nuclear plant PPA [power purchase agreement] in favor of employing more energy efficiency, demand response, renewable power and coal-to-gas switching. (See Entergy, Consumers Announce Closure of Palisades Nuke.) According to CMS, the plan will save customers $172 million over four years.
Poppe said the substitute capacity plan for the Palisades PPA is “solid” and replaces a “single, big-bet capital project for many smaller options” with less risk. She said CMS could make more PPA replacements in the future by building new plants.
In its final actions in a case regarding the Palisades shutdown plan, the MPSC issued an order that called for more information from Consumers and closed the docket on the case. The order gave no ruling on the shutdown. An MPSC news release announced that MPSC was directing Consumers to provide more information. MPSC then opened a new case, apparently with no public announcement.
MPSC announced that it has scheduled the first public hearing in the Palisades closure case. This came in regards to the recently opened case. The March 9 hearing will be open to the public. Instructions for public participation:
Any person wishing to appear at the hearing to make a statement of position without becoming a party to the case may participate by filing an appearance. To file an appearance, the individual must attend the hearing and advise the presiding administrative law judge of his or her wish to make a statement of position. All information submitted to the Commission in this matter becomes public information, thus available on the Michigan Public Service Commission’s website, and subject to disclosure. Please do not include information you wish to remain private.
Paw Paw based Two Rivers Coalition sent a letter to MPSC in support of the Palsiades shutdown. The letter calls the closing and decommissioning of the plant “important for the environmental well-being of the region.” MPSC filed TRC’s letter with the case MPSC had closed nearly four weeks earlier.
Van Buren County has started planning its adjustment to Palisades’ closing. The Paw Paw Courier-Leader reports creation of the Joint Adjustment Committee. Public and private-sector members of the committee will help “alleviate the impact of the plant’s Oct. 1, 2018, closing.”
Residential Customer Group filed a motion in the case MPSC had closed on January 20. RCG’s motion asks that the closed case be reconsidered, reheard, clarified, and reopened.
The following groups have filed documents in the Palisades case that MPSC opened on February 10:
- Consumers Energy (seven documents totalling 872 pages plus a confidential document.)
- Administrative Law Judges Division, scheduling a March 9 hearing.
- Michigan Public Service Commission.
- The Association of Businesses Advocating Tariff Equity (ABATE).
- The Michigan Environmental Council (MEC).
- Residential Customer Group.
- Special Litigation Unit of the state Attorney General’s office.
- Entergy Nuclear Palisades, LLC. and Entergy Nuclear Power Marketing, LLC.
The case appears primarily concerned with how Consumers plans to finance the power purchase agreement buyout it negotiated with Entergy.
MPSC held its first hearing on the plan to close Palisades nuclear plant. Sierra Club was there with two public comments. Click here to see our report. Official transcript of the hearing is available here.
Nuclear Regulatory Commission reports Palisades at zero power production. This comes a few weeks ahead of a scheduled refueling shutdown originally planned for April. NRC has told Palisades to perform a steam generator inspection and has asked a series of questions. NRC will schedule a conference call with Palisades officials to get the answers.
The first Palisades Open House since Entergy and Consumers announced their shutdown plan was held in Benton Harbor. Barbara Pellegrini and Kraig Schultz of Michigan Safe Energy Future and Jan Boudart of Nuclear Energy Information Service were there. Barbara reports that “a public bail-out is not likely” because Entergy’s corporate strategy is to get out of the wholesale power business. We also learned that the second of two cooling towers is being replaced during the refueling shutdown. The first was replaced in 2012. Click here for a full report.
Palisades officials have notified the NRC that the plant is not ready for a tornado. “Event Number 52647” reports that “conditions in the plant design” make Palisades “not adequately protected from tornado missiles.” The list of vulnerable components:
- Service Water System
- Fuel Oil Transfer System
- Emergency Diesel Generators
- Control Room Heating, Ventilation, and Cooling System
- Steam Driven Auxiliary Feedwater Pump
- Component Cooling Water System
After 44 years of operating while vulnerable to tornadoes, the plant must survive two more tornado seasons before it shuts down.
The Michigan Public Service Commission has scheduled two public meetings for May 8 in Lawrence. Afternoon (3-5 PM) and evening (6-8 PM) meetings well be held at:
Van Buren Conference Center
490 South Paw Paw Street
Lawrence, Michigan 49064
There will be a five-minute limit per public comment. Submit written comments to:
Those of us who attended the two hearings in Lawrence (see above) agree that public comments ran about 10-to-1 in favor of closing Palisades. The few pro-Palisades comments expressed mostly resignation and anxiety. Commenters on both sides of the question were deeply concerned about lost jobs and lost tax revenue. Media coverage was extensive:
- WWMT NewsChannel 3’s report on the 3:00 meeting
- WWMT NewsChannel 3’s more extensive coverage recapped both meetings.
- Bradenton Herald
- Western Michigan University’s WMUK Radio
- WIN 98.5 Radio in Battle Creek
- Utility Dive
- WOOD TV-8 in Grand Rapids
- News-Talk Radio 94.9 WJSM in St. Joseph
- St. Joseph-Benton Harbor Herald Palladium
Administrative Law Judge Sharon Feldman is presiding in the case. She said that the case is in its discovery phase. Parties are sharing information with each other. Cross examination is scheduled for June 13-16 at MPSC’s Lansing office. The public may attend but not participate, and the courtroom will be cleared of spectators when testimony touches on confidential matters.
A transcript of the May 8 Michigan Public Service Commission’s public hearing has been posted to the online docket.
Entergy has released a PowerPoint document that (kind-of) explains its shutdown and decommissioning plans for Palisades, Pilgrim, and Indian Point reactors 1 and 2. The plan, dated June 20, was made available to the public in late May. The document says what Entergy has done toward shutting down Palisades – a “Certified Fuel Handler Training and Retraining Program” – and presents a timetable for when they will submit their license amendment requests to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and ask for certain exemptions.
Among the 148 filings so far in MPSC’s Consumers/Entergy case are a total of ten documents labeled “Testimony & Exhibits” – about 1100 pages worth. Two other documents labeled “Exhibits” have been filed, both by Consumers. All documents except these two are available to the public.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has announced a public meeting to discuss Entergy’s decommissioning plans for five of its nuclear reactors, including Palisades. You can attend the meeting by phone or in person at NRC’s Rockville, MD, office from 10 AM to noon June 20. The public call-in number is 888-463-8173; passcode is 32943#. Click here to see the PowerPoint presentation Entergy will use at the meeting.
June 7 was the deadline for intervenors to submit written testimony in the Consumers/Entergy/MPSC Palisades case. With oral cross-examination of the testimony scheduled to begin Tuesday, June 13, participants in the case continue to submit discovery requests. While MPSC aims for an August ruling in the case, their request for comments from the public still stands.
Address your written comment to MPSC:
Executive Secretary, Michigan Public Service Commission
7109 West Saginaw Street
Lansing, Michigan, 48917.
Or email your comment to email@example.com.
IMPORTANT: Letters and emails should reference MPSC Case No. U-18250.
Your comment, of course, can talk about Palisades being unsafe and scary; but this case is specifically about whether MPSC will allow Consumers to pay Entergy to get out of the last four years of their power purchase agreement, and how Consumers will finance the buyout.
Cross examination is scheduled for June 13 through June 16 at MPSC’s office, 7109 Saginaw Street, Lansing. The public may attend, but only to observe. When confidential issues come up, the audience must leave the courtroom.
The Palisades shutdown working group held a meeting June 17 in South Haven to discuss strategy. Plans will depend on MPSC’s ruling in the case and what we learn as we go along. MPSC plans to announce its decision in August. The group allocated interim projects and scheduled its next meeting for August 19, to allow MPSC leeway on its self-imposed deadline and to allow ourselves time to consider the proper response to MPSC’s ruling.
On June 20, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission held a meeting at its Rockville, MD, HQ. Parties interested in the four Entergy sites that have been shut down or are scheduled to close were invited to attend in person or by conference call. The topic was decommissioning plans. Entergy gave a PowerPoint presentation (available here). “Decommissioning discussion goes off track” reported the Cape Cod Times, as people “peppered federal regulators and Entergy representatives with a long list of questions they had not come prepared to answer.” A report from Greenfield Recorder on the meeting dealt almost exclusively with high-level nuclear waste, which is “likely to be kept at nuke plants.” Michigan Safe Energy Future will hold a much more informative meeting on decommissioning Thursday evening, July 13, at Lake Michigan College South Haven Campus.
July 7, July 12
On July 7, Consumers Energy asked MPSC to extend the deadline for its decision in the Consumers/Entergy power purchase agreement buyout case to September 28, 2017. MPSC and all intervenors stipulated that they had no objections. On July 12, Administrative Law Judge Sharon L. Feldman issued an order extending the deadline as requested. MPSC had originally committed to issuing its decision in August.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has announced that it will hold an open house “to discuss its assessment of Palisades Nuclear Plant performance and other NRC activities as the plant prepares for closure,” according to MLive. Time and place:
- 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM, Wednesday, July 26
- Baymont Inn and Suites Conference Center, 1555 Phoenix Rd., South Haven
Entergy may sell Palisades to a decommissioning company.
A website called Exchange Monitor, a division of Access Intelligence, cited “AREVA Nuclear Materials” as saying “it had signed a deal to extract and ship the reactor pressure vessel and internal reactor parts at the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station for prospective plant owner NorthStar Group Services.” For NorthStar to becomes the actual owner, it would have to buy the plant from Entergy. Apparently referring to NorthStar, the report, which provides no corroborating links, says:
The New York-based decommissioning specialist hopes by the first quarter of next year to secure state and federal regulatory approval to buy the shuttered facility from power company Entergy for cleanup. It aims to complete decommissioning as early as 2026, decades before the schedule set by Entergy.
AREVA Nuclear Materials is a U.S. subsidiary of a French company. NorthStar is a company that advertises “safe and efficient nuclear facility decommissioning.” Exchange Monitor’s report cited “an Entergy spokesman” as naming two other nuclear plants that Entergy is considering selling to the decommissioning company: Pilgrim in Massachusetts and Palisades in Michigan.
Activist Chris Williams, who’s been watching the decommissioning at Entergy’s Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, presented a program in South Haven to let Southwest Michigan folks know what to expect when the process gets underway at Palisades. Rebecca Thiele of WMUK was on hand for the program at the South Haven campus of Lake Michigan College on the evening of July 13. Click here to see her report.
Among the key points Williams made:
- The people of Vermont formed an independent panel of Vermont citizens, state and local agencies and authorities, news media, interested organizations, and workers and companies involved in decommissioning at Vermont Yankee. The panel meets regularly to communicate with one another and to keep the public aware of the process and its progress. Williams said it was crucial that a similar panel be established to assure accountability at Palisades.
- The decommissioning program’s financial aspects, such as available funds, budget considerations, and the temptation to save money by cutting corners will require special attention. Right now, Entergy is obligated to completely finance the decommissioning. If Entergy sells the plant to a decommissioning company, the transaction must not push any of this cost onto the Michigan public. Cleanup estimates at Vermont Yankee exceed a billion dollars. The Palisades decommissioning fund has only $427 million.
- Short-term and long-term plans for safe handling of the high-level nuclear waste that Palisades has been producing for more than 45 years will be critical.
Entergy has asked the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to allow a cutback on plant security when Palisades closes. The request notification says that:
Entergy submitted a request for exemption from specific provisions of 1 O CFR 73.55, “Requirements for physical protection of licensed activities in nuclear power reactors against radiological sabotage,” for Palisades to the NRC for approval.
One of the “specific provisions” is “related to the suspension of security measures in an emergency or during severe weather for Palisades.” It seems clear that the plant’s shutdown will not immediately reduce the plant’s stockpile of high-level nuclear waste subject to radiological sabotage during an emergency or severe weather. NRC estimated that evaluating and ruling on Entergy’s request will take about a year.
Bette Pierman and Kraig Schultz went to NRC’s July 26 Palisades Open House. Kraig emailed this report:
The NRC meeting was set up in a format that did not allow public comment. However, it did allow for direct conversation with many people from the NRC and also many of the top management people from Entergy. The NRC did three presentations that gave general information that we were already aware of.
I pursued the question of how much money is in the Decommissioning fund and if that is “enough” with NRC and Entergy representatives. I requested data from the NRC via e-mail on the exact amount in the decommissioning fund over time. With that data, I hope to make a chart showing what the fund has done with a comparison to what the NRC requires to be in the fund. Entergy top management indicated that decisions about how much money should be placed in the fund by Entergy is a business decision that is made at Entergy headquarters level, not at the plant level.
Expanding on Kraig’s concern about the decommissioning fund:
NRC regulations require that, before a nuclear plant can begin operating, the licensee must establish a fund that will cover the plant’s eventual decommissioning costs. The Palisades decommissioning fund has been in questionable shape ever since Consumers raided the fund when it sold the plant to Entergy in 2006. See WMUK’s report by Rebecca Thiele. Her report says that NRC pegs the cost to decommission at “anywhere from $200 million to $600 million.” Southern California Edison says decommissioning its recently closed San Onofre plant “is expected to take 20 years and cost $4.4 billion” – more than seven times NRC’s high-end estimate!
The Michigan Public Service Commission is accepting public comments as the Commission considers the Palisades shutdown plan. When you email your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org, refer to MPSC Case No. U-18250. One thing you could include in your comment is your insistence that Consumers ratepayers not be assessed a surcharge to cover a shortfall in the the Palisades decommissioning fund.