Massachusetts’ Sole Nuclear Plant Shutting Down

Published December 10, 2015

Massachusetts’ Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station announced in October its plan to close by June 2019.

Pilgrim, which has been in operation since 1972, employs more than 600 people, generating 680 megawatts of electricity, enough to power more than 600,000 homes. The closure will leave a sizable hole in the state’s energy supply.

Travis Fisher, an economist at the Institute for Energy Research, and Frank Conte, a policy analyst and director of communications at the Beacon Hill Institute, say Pilgrim’s closure creates a serious problem for the state.

“From a grid reliability perspective, any closure of a large, reliable generation plant such as the Pilgrim nuclear facility is bad news,” said Fisher. “We simply cannot keep the lights on without facilities fueled by coal, natural gas, and nuclear power, which together generated 85 percent of our electricity in 2014.”

“I think the pending closure of the Pilgrim power plant is a major crisis for Massachusetts, and the implications will be severe given the policy choices we’ve collectively made over the last decade,” said Conte.

Environmentalists’ Assumptions Are Unrealistic

Environmentalists are touting wind and solar power to replace Pilgrim and fill the gaps in the state’s energy sector.

“Environmentalists, although they’re well-meaning, have no idea of the economics,” Conte said. “Wind and solar will never replace the Pilgrim power plant.”

“The next-best solutions they also oppose,” said Conte. “They oppose hydropower and natural gas, deluding themselves into thinking wind and solar, which are intermittent, can replace these valuable sources of energy.”

In a statement about the closure, Gov. Charlie Baker (R) said, “Losing Pilgrim as a significant power generator not only poses a potential energy shortage but also highlights the need for clean, reliable, affordable energy proposals, which my administration has put forward through legislation to deliver affordable hydroelectricity.”

Among the proposals Baker hopes will fill the energy gap Pilgrim’s closure will leave is a bill aimed at helping the state tap into Canadian hydropower.

“The closure of Pilgrim will be a significant loss of carbon-free electricity generation and will offset progress Massachusetts has made in achieving the state’s 2020 greenhouse gas emission reduction goals, making it more challenging to hit these targets,” Baker said. “I look forward to working with the legislature to make our proposal for clean, baseload generation law ….”

Fisher doubts much of the lost electricity generation power will be replaced.

“Unfortunately, today’s policy environment props up intermittent sources of electricity, such as wind and solar power, and cripples reliable sources with ever-stricter regulations,” said Fisher. “Even the new natural gas infrastructure that is expected to make up for this closure faces regulatory hurdles and protests [made by] the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.”

Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.