Consumers Energy recently approved its long-term energy plan, or Integrated Resource Plan (IRP). The plan provides an important roadmap for how a utility can acquire and provide energy while helping Michigan make progress in reducing planet-warming greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This IRP is a great example of how a utility can take ambitious action on climate change and the role local advocates can play in making that dream come true.
Consumers’ plan commits to removing millions of tons of health-damaging air pollution and greenhouse gases (GHGs) from the grid over the coming years. Consumers’ IRP will significantly reduce Michigan’s energy sector emissions and contribute to the state’s MI Healthy Climate Plan climate goals of a 52% reduction in emissions by 2030 (below 2005 levels) and net-zero emissions by 2050. Michigan’s plan to retire coal plants by 2030. Consumers has set the bar for other Michigan utilities, including DTE Electric, which will introduce its IRP in October.
Consumers’ original plan included a number of emissions-reducing measures, such as retiring its remaining coal plant, the JH Campbell Plant, in 2025 and adding more than 6,000 megawatts (MW) of solar power to the utility’s generation complex by 2040. involved plans to buy four gas plants, three of which were owned by CMS Enterprises, a corporate affiliate of the utility. If consumers were allowed to buy gas plants, they would continue to release carbon and harmful air pollution into the atmosphere for at least another two decades, reducing benefits from coal plant retirements, solar deployments and other measures. A diverse coalition of advocates has emerged to consider these measures.
The coalition’s advocacy of the IRP in court proceedings and public debates led to the IRP’s historic settlement agreement. In the case, attorneys are pressing the utility’s proposed gas plant purchases. They provided evidence of flaws in the Consumer Request for Proposal (RFP) process and could show how the utility’s gas-only RFP unjustifiably favored CMS’ gas facilities.
With the benefit of computer modeling, coalition members also presented three alternative resource plans that were cleaner and more cost-effective than Consumers’ plan. One alternative plan maintained the 2025 retirement date for Campbell Plant units, removed CMS-owned gas plants from the company’s IRP, and allocated capacity shortfalls at retiring coal plant units to more renewable energy, energy efficiency, demand response and energy storage. This alternative resource plan forms the basis for a Consumer-approved IRP.
Externally, the coalition joined thousands of Michigan residents in urging Consumers to switch from coal and gas to healthier, more affordable, renewable wind and solar power, energy efficiency and battery storage. This advocacy resulted in more than 4,500 Michiganders submitting public comments to the Michigan Public Service Commission. Internal and external lobbying efforts by lawyers put pressure on the utility to settle the case.
On the back of this strong advocacy work, a group of stakeholders succeeded in achieving one of the most ambitious utility production settlements in Michigan history. That settlement includes:
With the retirement of the Campbell Power Plant, consumers will move completely off coal by 2025. Preventing consumers from acquiring three gas appliances owned by its corporate affiliate. A commitment to replace the Campbell Plant’s power with a combination of renewable energy, battery storage and other clean sources. A commitment that consumers’ next IRP will include more information on the health effects of primary particulate matter and precursor emissions (nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, volatile organic compounds) from their plants. Commitment to expand public engagement efforts in the next IRP. Commitment to produce 6,000 MW of solar power by 2040.
The wins in the Consumer IRP are an important step toward jump-starting Michigan’s clean energy transition, achieving our climate goals, and improving air quality and public health outcomes.
More work to come: DTE IRP
While the Consumers IRP settlement is an important victory, other Michigan utilities have more progress to make. To stay within 1.5° Celsius of average warming above pre-industrial levels to avoid the worst effects of climate change, Michigan must step up its utilities and be bold in meeting its climate goals. DTE Electric must be compliant with Consumers when it submits its IRP in October.
DTE must retire its two remaining coal plants, the Belle River Power Plant and the Monroe Power Plant, within this decade. The Monroe plant is particularly problematic because it is the nation’s fourth-largest pollutant emitter.6th highest water pollutant and 7th highest air pollutant. For the health and well-being of Michiganders, DTE must retire at least two units of the Monroe Power Plant by 2028 and extend Belle River’s Power subsidy from 2028 to 2025.
Increasing the retirement dates for both DTE’s remaining coal plants would significantly reduce Michigan’s GHG emissions. Studies by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Harvard University, and Resources for the Future agree that emissions reductions are occurring most rapidly in the energy sector. We must achieve an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from renewable and zero-carbon sources by 2030. Any delay in eliminating emissions from the energy sector will delay other sectors, such as transportation, and make it more expensive to eliminate their emissions.
In addition to decommissioning the coal plant, DTE must include in its IRP:
Obligation not to build gas plants and infrastructure Exceed consumer commitment to add 6,000 MW of solar and 550 MW of energy storage Exceed 2% annual energy efficiency savings
DTE could make similar gains in transitioning away from fossil fuels to clean, pollution-free energy. The utility won’t do it alone. Fighting for the climate action we know is important in Michigan will require strong advocacy and the voices of all concerned citizens.
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