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  • Green Groups Slam Palisades Restart // Grid Caesarism in California?

Green Groups Slam Palisades Restart // Grid Caesarism in California?

Green Groups Slam Palisades Restart

Environmentalists are coming out of the woodwork to oppose restarting the Palisades nuclear power plant in Michigan. Currently, Holtec, the new owner of Palisades, Governor Gretchen Whitmer, and the Department of Energy are trying to shoehorn the plant into the DOE's Civilian Nuclear Credit Program.

Technically, Palisades shouldn't qualify. "That's because Palisades closed permanently in May, according to new owner Holtec International and former owner Entergy Nuclear," reports the Holland Sentinel. "The federal program states nuclear power reactors must be projected to cease operations because of economic factors — which the environmental groups argue doesn't include Palisades because it's no longer producing or selling electricity."

The letter, which can be found here, features a who's who of environmental groups. But it also features an anti-fracking group. Why are anti-fracking groups fighting a nuclear power plant? That's a good question. The same thing happened in New York with the premature closure of the Indian Point nuclear power plant. Actor Mark Ruffalo was a vocal opponent of Indian Point and published an op-ed celebrating its closure with the then head of Anti-Fracking Action, Renee Vogelsang. Alumni from the Vermont Yankee and Indian Point closure pressure groups also signed the letter. Opposition to fracking works like a stalking horse for the true aim of these groups: to promote energy austerity in general and anti-nuclearism in particular.

Once Vermont Yankee closed, New England's grid became more vulnerable. The bill for that will come due this winter. After Indian Point closed, New York's gas consumption increased apace. No wonder Nick Culp, the senior manager of governmental affairs at Holtec, thinks keeping Palisades going "would be a major success story."

But it's still unclear what the path forward for Palisades will be. Holtec doesn't have an operating license, it's true that the CNCP was not meant for non-operating plants, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has never in its history returned a decommissioning plant to the grid. While Holtec has yet to embark on its decommissioning process, the devil remains in the details.

Grid Caesarism in California?

Grid Brief readers know that California's grid doesn't have enough juice. It faces a terrible horizon: blackouts like fat storm clouds rolling into view. Despite all of the dirty gas plants it has kept onboard, despite all the diesel backup, despite all the batteries, the solar panels, the dreams of offshore wind, and even saving the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, the Golden State is coming up short. It relies on imports to get it through its hardest days, as we saw earlier this month.

Worse still, electricity in California is some of the most expensive in the country. Californian households pay almost double the national average ($154/month) to keep their lights on. So what's the solution?

Jon Wellinghoff, a former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, has an idea.

"Mr. Wellinghoff believes that part of California’s problem can be solved by changing the way electricity is managed in the West. CAISO runs an energy trading market across multiple Western states but controls only California’s electric grid," reports the New York Times. "In addition to a regional trading market, Mr. Wellinghoff wants a regional electric grid operator rather than individual operators in separate states — an idea that has met stiff opposition in the past because CAISO’s board is appointed by California’s governor and other states do not want their outsize neighbor dictating policy. For California’s part, some officials have not wanted to surrender control of their grid manager to smaller states."

Still, Wellinghoff believes greater verticality and centralization of the electricity sector--a return to its origins--could prove salutary. "Broader authority will produce benefits immediately,” Mr. Wellinghoff told the NYT. “The system needs to be made more efficient. We could have been in a better position, yes.”

Those benefits? Undoing what Meredith Angwin calls the Fatal Trifecta: overbuilding renewables, overreliance on just-in-time natural gas, and over-dependence on imports. Inserting some planning and top-down control could put some backbone in the system, Wellinghoff believes. Whether or not anyone takes Wellinghoff's suggestion in earnest that it is being entertained speaks to a loss of confidence in the deregulated electricity market experiment and an admission that CAISO's in deep trouble.

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Conversation Starters

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