Nuclear energy offers benefits to Michigan

Spencer Abraham

All of us from Michigan are used to frigid winters and scorching summers. These temperature extremes underscore the need to keep the lights, air conditioning, and heat on and running reliably. Every time you flip a switch, turn a dial, or plug into an outlet, electricity is there when you need it — something many seem to take for granted. What we should not take for granted, however, is the vital role that our nuclear power plants play in making the electricity we use each and every day, and more broadly, the role that the generation of nuclear power plays in our state’s economy and environment. This is especially true in light of the Environmental Protection Agency’s recently announced Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing generating sources across the country.

Michigan’s four nuclear reactors — D.C. Cook 1 & 2, Fermi, and Palisades — generate 27 percent of the state’s electricity while emitting no greenhouse gases. Representing roughly 4,000 megawatts of capacity, these plants make enough electricity to power 4 million Michigan households. What’s more, they account for a staggering 91 percent of all carbon-free electricity generated in the state. If that’s not enough to appreciate, a report released recently by The Brattle Group, a global economic consulting firm, puts a fine point on just how valuable these plants are to Michigan families and businesses.

The report, “Nuclear Power Plants’ Contribution to the Michigan Economy,” estimates the overall economic value of Michigan’s nuclear plants, as well as their contributions to limiting greenhouse gas emissions in the state. The findings speak for themselves. Michigan’s nuclear industry accounts for 3,200 full-time jobs (both direct and secondary), reports Brattle, and provides almost $23 million in net state tax revenues annually. The data also reveal that these plants contribute more than a half-billion dollars to the state’s gross domestic product, a key indicator of economic health.

On top of that, without the electricity generated by Michigan’s nuclear plants, The Brattle Group finds that average annual carbon dioxide emissions would be about 25 million tons greater than they are today. Economically speaking, that is worth an additional $1.085 billion annually if valued at the U.S. government’s estimate for the social cost of carbon dioxide emissions.

The importance of the existing nuclear energy fleet cannot be overstated in the context of the EPA’s proposed clean power plan. Given that nuclear energy provides nearly all of Michigan’s emissions-free energy, and the clear role it plays in helping cut carbon emissions, preserving these plants is critical to helping Michigan and other states across the country meet the EPA’s new climate goals.

Unfortunately, despite their significant benefits, some nuclear plants in other parts of the country are facing several economic factors that threaten their continued operation, and accordingly, could diminish the nuclear industry’s long-term contributions to our country’s electricity supply, economy, and environment.

It is my hope that the data from the Brattle report ultimately encourages all stakeholders in Michigan to appreciate the value that the nuclear energy industry provides the state. Now more than ever, we must support the continued operation of well-functioning nuclear energy plants in order to ensure a clean and reliable energy future.

Spencer Abraham was America’s 10th secretary of energy and represented Michigan in the U.S. Senate from 1995-2001. He is a member of the Leadership Council of Nuclear Matters.