The planned closure of the Palisades nuclear power plant in southwestern Michigan will be delayed by four years until spring of 2022, an energy company said Thursday.
The announcement from New Orleans-based Entergy Corp. came after the Michigan Public Service Commission said last week that Consumers Energy could opt out of buying power from the plant but couldn't recover all of the $172 million requested as part of the deal.
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Entergy said Consumers Energy would have been able to recover $136.6 million through surcharges to electric customers.
"We greatly appreciate the continued patience of our employees and the local community in southwest Michigan throughout this regulatory process, and we will continue to focus on the plant's safe and reliable operations," Charlie Arnone, site vice president and Entergy's top official at Palisades, said in a statement.
The Palisades Power Plant employs about 600 workers and generates enough electricity to power more than 800,000 homes. The planned 2018 closure had prompted worries about the future for workers at the major employer in the region, but had been welcomed by environmental activists.
Covert school Superintendent Bobbi Morehead said people were dancing with excitement when they heard the new date.
"It means everything to Covert public schools. They're literally half of our budget," she said of Palisades' property taxes.
But radioactive waste specialist Kevin Kamps with Beyond Nuclear, a watchdog group focused on the nuclear power industry, said keeping the plant open until 2022 keeps the Great Lakes region at risk of potential public health and environmental threats.
He said the full recovery cost requested of electric customers — or even a higher cost — "would have been a bargain compared to the catastrophe that could occur if the high-risk Palisades atomic reactor is operated for another five perilous years."
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will continue to oversee the plant and Entergy will continue to make investments to assure safety at the plant, Entergy spokesman Jerry Nappi said in an email.
The plant was built by Consumers Energy, which sold it to Entergy in 2007. Entergy last year announced plans to permanently close Palisades in 2018, but now the companies plan to continue an existing power purchase agreement that runs until 2022.
Consumers Energy said in a statement that maintaining the power purchase agreement is the "best path forward." The company said the company remains "committed to delivering affordable, reliable, safe and clean energy to our customers across Michigan."
While federal and state lawmakers from the area welcomed the news that the plant will remain open, a top state official warned that local officials must prepare for its eventual closure and not put off "difficult decisions."
"Making critical decisions today about budgets, resources and local services will better position township, school and county officials to weather the impact the plant's closure will have throughout the area," Valerie Brader, executive director of the Michigan Agency for Energy, said in a statement.
The plant is in Van Buren County's Covert Township, along Lake Michigan. Consumers Energy is part of Jackson-based CMS Energy Corp.