Michigan’s Potential Future with Nuclear Energy

The consumption and production of nuclear energy is not new in Michigan. In fact, according to the most recent data from Energy Information Administration, Michigan produced more nuclear energy in 2020 than any other kind of energy. At that time, Michigan had three functioning nuclear power plants- Fermi 2, Cook and Palisades. In May of 2022 though the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant, which is located on the west side of the state, ceased operations.

Now, however, Palisades’ operations might re-start. Several lawmakers in Michigan want the nuclear plant to re-open, both for energy and economic purposes. On Sept. 9, 2022 Gov. Gretchen Whitmer sent a letter to the US Department of Energy supporting the new owner of Palisades Power Plant’s (Holtec International) federal grant application to the Civil Nuclear Credit program. This program was established to save “premature” retirements of nuclear reactors due to financial hardships. While Michigan lawmakers, such as Gov. Whitmer, believe the nuclear plant is eligible for the program there are several groups, including the Michigan Sierra Club and Michigan Wildlife Conservancy that believe otherwise.

When the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant closed on May 20, 2022 it closed 11 days early because of the performance of a “control rod drive seal,” according to a press release from the Governor’s Office. It was on May 20 that its fuel supply ran out and the power purchase agreement with Consumers Energy expired. The environmental groups say that the plant isn’t eligible for the federal grant program.

Opponents say ineligibility stems from the fact the plant is in fact retired now, according to the Holland Sentinel, and the program is intended for plants that are still operating. According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, it has never received a request to return a nuclear plant to the grid after it has been permanently defueled. If Palisades becomes the first this could mean the 600 jobs lost when the plant closed could be brought back.

Proponents say economic development is a factor to consider when seeking to  re-open the plant as well as the amount of energy produced and consumed. They argue its long-term effects on Michigan and beyond should also be considered.

Data is not yet available to determine how the closure has impacted the state’s energy production and consumption for 2022, but according to the Governor’s Office more than 800 megawatts of nuclear energy was produced by the Palisades plant on an annual basis. And, as the charts below show, the amount of nuclear energy produced in Michigan is equal to the amount consumed.

According to the Energy Information Administration, in 2021, coal provided the largest share of Michigan’s electricity net generation (32%), followed by nuclear energy (30%) and then natural gas-fired power (27%). The data in BTUs was not available for 2021, but the charts below show that in 2021 316.7 trillion BTUs of nuclear energy was both produced and consumed in Michigan.

In the last 20 plus years the amount of nuclear energy produces, and consumed, has grown slightly (except for a production dip in 2009). In 2000, 196.9 trillion BTUs of nuclear energy was produced and consumed in Michigan, and by 2020 that number increased to 316.7 trillion BTUs. It will decline substantially now with the closing of Palisades, a loss of roughly 800 megawatts.

While the reasoning behind the closure of Palisades Nuclear Plant was based on business reasons, its reopening offers the possibility of a non-carbon-based source of electricity. Michigan has a heavy reliance on carbon-based energy.  The goal is for the state to be carbon neutral by 2050, have all coal plants closed by 2035 and to use at least 50 percent of renewable energy for consumption by 2030, according to the MiClimate Plan. Nuclear energy is not renewable, but it is a non-carbon-based source of energy. It’s advocate, the Office of Nuclear Energy, argues:
•It does not produce emissions (nuclear energy produces energy through fission);
•It utilizes a relatively small footprint to produce energy than others sources (more than 3 million solar panels are needed to produce the same amount of power as a typical commercial reactor or more than 430 wind turbines, according to the Office of Nuclear Energy);
•Nuclear fuel is dense so it produces minimal waste.
Opponents support the decommissioning of plants, including Palisades. Their reasoning considers first, the radioactive waste that remains on-site. The waste can remain on site for decades and the storage and removal of the waste is a concern because of potential spills, groundwater contamination and more.
In addition, the risk of an accident at a nuclear plant also causes grave concern for those in the plant and the surroundings of the nuclear power plant, including long-term radioactive pollution of the area—just look at Chernobyl. Recent  threats to Ukrainian nuclear plants raise the specter of new ways that nuclear disasters could occur.  Other concerns are that the mining of uranium is controversial, nuclear plants can be viewed as national security threats, and these plants cost an exorbitant amount to build.
With the pros and cons to nuclear energy fairly well known, now the federal government, the new Palisades’ Nuclear Power Plant owner and the State of Michigan must decide whether redeveloping Michigan’s nuclear energy supply is worthwhile.

Michigan’s Energy Consumption Tops its Production


In Michigan, we consume more energy, overall, than we produce, and the type of energy we produce is more limited than the types of energy sources we consume. For example, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), Michigan does not produce any coal for energy. However, in 2020, according to the EIA, 334.4 trillion BTUs were consumed. The coal powered energy consumed in Michigan is brought in from elsewhere, primarily Wyoming and Montana.

The largest energy source produced in Michigan is nuclear energy, with 316.7 trillion BTUs being produced in 2020. The amount of nuclear energy produced in 2020 is nearly a third more than what was produced in 2000; in 2000 196.9 BTUs of nuclear electricity was produced in Michigan. In the last 20 years, the largest amount of nuclear energy produced in Michigan was 344.2 trillion BTUs in 2011.

In 2020 there were three nuclear power plants in Michigan. However, in May of 2022 one of the nuclear power plants shut down. We will dig deeper into Michigan’s nuclear power next week.

While nuclear energy most recently reigned supreme in energy production totals, at one-point, natural gas was the largest energy source in Michigan. The amount of natural gas energy produced in Michigan reached its peak production at 312 trillion BTUs in 2000. Since then, the amount produced has steadily declined. Between 2007 and 2008 the amount of natural gas produced in Michigan declined from 275 trillion BTUs to 162 trillion BTUs. By 2020, the amount produced was 69.9 trillion BTUs. Overall, between 2007 and 2020 the amount of natural gas produced in Michigan declined by 204.7 trillion BTUs.

In 2020, Michigan ranked 19th in the amount of natural gas produced.

Crude oil production has ranged between 45 and 24 trillion BTUs since 2000, with a steady decline happening since 2013. According to the EIA, Michigan ranked 18th out of the 50 states for crude oil production in 2020. In 2020, 24 trillion BTUs of crude oil was produced.  This is a decrease from the 45.9 trillion BTUs produced in 2000.

Crude oil production in the state comes from reserves; in 2020 about 4.5 million barrels of crude oil were produced compared to the 34.7 million barrels that were produced in 1979.  Please note the chart references BTUs, while barrels of crude oil is another measurement used to detail production of this energy source.
The amount of renewable energy produced in Michigan has grown since 2000, outclimbing energy production numbers of crude oil and natural gas. In total in 2020, according to the EIA, 225 trillion BTUs of renewable energy was produced. While this was a slight decrease from 237 trillion BTUs produced two years earlier, it is still an increase overall in the amount of renewable energy produced.

The highest amount of renewable energy produced by a source was from wood and waste since 2000. In 2020 the amount of wood and waste renewable energy produced in Michigan was 99.4 trillion BTUs, a decline from the 119.5 trillion BTUs in 2018.

In 2002, biofuels did not produce any energy, and by 2020 that number increased to 43.1 trillion BTUs. This was a slight decline from the 50.8 trillion BTUs produced.
For “other” renewable energy sources, which include wind, solar and hydroelectric energy, there has been a steady increase in production. There was however somewhat of a spike in 2014 when the amount produced shadowed the amount of biofuel energy produced in Michigan. In 2014 there were 58 trillion BTUs of “other” renewable energy produced in Michigan; in 2020 that number increased to 82.5 trillion BTUs.
While there has been somewhat of a shift in the type of energy produced in Michigan, such as a more nuclear and renewable energy being produced and less natural gas, the overall amount produced has remained fairly stable. The gap between the amount of energy produced in Michigan and the amount consumed has also remained somewhat stable, but large. In 2000, there was a 2,559.8 trillion BTU gap between the amount of energy consumed and produced in Michigan. By 2020 that gap only decreased to 1,975.1 trillion BTUs.

As noted last week, Michigan consumes 240.2 trillion BTUs of renewable energy sources, 100.3 trillion BTUs of natural gas and more than three times those amounts in both coal and oil energy sources. With consumption levels where they are at, and the necessary shift to clean energy sources growing greater and greater, Michigan’s energy policies should also shift. There needs to be further encouragement, and enforcement, of creating more renewable energy production sources in the state, with that energy than being used in-state. Michigan should prioritize consuming the clean energy it produces and increasing such production.

Michigan’s Energy Consumption Declined in 2020

In 2020, Michigan’s primary energy consumption was 2,610.6 trillion British Thermal Units (BTU), the lowest it has been since 1984 when it was at 2,597.4 trillion. This total consumption number is based on all categories of energy, including (but not limited to) coal, petroleum, natural gas and renewable energy sources. Between 1984 and 1999 energy consumption in Michigan continued to regularly increase; in 1999 Michigan’s total energy consumption was 3,227.4 trillion BTU. Since then, Michigan’s energy consumption decreased to 2,610.6 trillion BTU in 2020. In 2020 Michigan ranked 10th in total energy consumption out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia (this includes residential, commercial, industrial and transportation).

The decrease can be linked to several factors including, Michigan’s population decrease, the commercial sector becoming more energy savvy, the implementation and use of Utility Waste Reduction Programs and an overall awareness on energy consumption and its environmental and financial impacts. 

However, while energy consumption is declining in Michigan, energy use is still a key factor in everyday life. The chart below highlights some of the key energy sources consumed in Michigan in 2020.

**The data provided in this post is from the to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) and can be found here.***

In the State of Michigan, petroleum is the most highly consumed form of energy, according EIA.  In 2020, 1,010.9 trillion (BTU)s of petroleum were consumed in the State of Michigan with natural gas being the second highest consumed energy source at 1,003.4 trillion BTUs. For context, , petroleum represents the use of motor gasoline, distillate fuel oil, residual fuel and jet fuel and natural gas is used for heating, electricity and industrial use. One of the largest energy sources produced in Michigan is natural gas.

Coal was the third largest type of energy consumed in Michigan in 2020 at 334.4 trillion BTUs. Although coal is the third largest type of energy consumed in Michigan, coal fired-power plants provide the largest share of the electricity generated in Michigan. However, Michigan has no active coal mines, most of the coal consumed in the state is brought in by rail from the west.

Renewable energy consumption in Michigan is not even half of the consumption of petroleum, natural gas or coal, but there are continuous strides to utilize it as a reliable energy source. Biomass, all together, was the largest consumed renewable energy source in Michigan at 157.7 trillion BTUs in 2020. Biomass includes organic matter such as wood or crop waste. Wind energy is the second largest consumed renewable energy source in Michigan at 59.1 trillion BTUs.

While petroleum has long been an energy source that has been heavily consumed in Michigan, there has been shifts in its consumption numbers, along with the consumption of other energy sources. The charts below show how energy source consumption habits have changed in Michigan between 2000 and 2020.
Some key takeaways include:

Petroleum: There has been an overall increase of usage since 2012, when it was reported that 787.2 trillion BTUs were consumed. Prior to 2012, use of petroleum remained steady between 2000 and 2005. Consumption then began to drop to the 2012 low point. This pattern of decline, then resurgence, is one that follows economic activity related to the Great Recession. We will likely see a decline in consumption for 2021, and even 2022, in reflection of the pandemic and its economic impacts.
Natural Gas: Consumption of natural gas hit a low point in 2009 at 750.8 trillion BTUs. Since then though, consumption steadily increased through 2019. In 2020 there was a slight decrease, with consumption dropping from 1,055 trillion BTUs in 2019 to 1,003.5 trillion BTUs in 2020.
Biomass: Consumption of biomass as an energy source steadily increased between 2002 and 2018. In 2002 81 trillion BTUs of biomass was consumed and by 2018 that number increased to 175.7 trillion BTUs. Since 2018 consumption has been slowly declining. A decrease in consumption of wood and waste and fuel ethanol were the largest contributors to that decline.
Geothermal: The consumption of geothermal as an energy source steadily increased from 2000 to 2011, (from 1.2 trillion BTUs to 5.1 trillion BTUs) and has since leveled off, with 5.2 trillion BTUs being consumed each year between 2012 and 2020.
Wind: Consumption of wind power energy in Michigan truly took off in 2009 and has only increased since then, with the 2020 consumption number being 59.1 trillion BTUs.
Solar and hydroelectric: Solar and hydroelectric are the lowest consumed renewable energy sources in Michigan. According to the EIA, 3.2 trillion BTUs of solar energy was consumed in Michigan in 2020; this is an increase from the 0.2 trillion BTUs consumed in 2000. This was also the highest amount consumed to date.
Consumption of hydroelectric energy has been erratic, with consumption of this energy source fairly consistently increasing since 2012.

While fossil fuels are still a large part of Michigan’s energy consumption, the data shows there is a shift, albeit somewhat slow, toward renewable energy. In 2008 Michigan enacted a renewable energy standard that required the state retail electricity providers, such as DTE, to generate at least 10 percent of their energy sources from renewable energy; that requirement increased to 12.5 percent to be met in both 2019 and 2020 and 15 percent in 2020.

Even with renewable energy policies in place, the data presented here indicates that carbon dioxide producing fossil fuels are likely to continue to dominate energy consumption for many decades. Policy makers must take stronger, more immediate approaches to address the dangers of climate change, which directly impacts our environment, economy and children.