Consumers Energy Shows Smaller Can Be Better: Environment and ratepayers helped by decision to defer Thetford plant

Today, Consumers Energy announced its plan to purchase a 540MW natural gas plant in Jackson, Michigan for $155 million—a move that would put a controversial proposal to build a $700 million, 700 MW natural gas plant in Thetford, Michigan on hold.  This marks a victory for Michigan’s clean energy future and is testament to the diligence of organizations like Earth Justice, Michigan Environmental Council (MEC), NRDC, and Sierra Club.

Consumers applied for a Certificate of Necessity to build the Thetford plant back in July of last year, which triggered the obligation to submit an integrated resource plan. An integrated resource plan calls for a comprehensive review of resources and options in an effort to properly plan to meet its customers’ needs over time. Together, Earth Justice, MEC, Sierra Club, and NRDC intervened in the case to demonstrate that it would be more cost-effective and environmentally friendly to look outside of new construction and instead tap Michigan’s vast energy efficiency and renewable energy potential to meet electricity demand.

Our witnesses presented testimony and modeling data that showed Consumers Energy could lower the total cost of service by a billion dollars by investing in significant new efficiency resources, wind, and existing capacity, rather than building the Thetford plant. To their credit, Consumers also looked at multiple plants across the state as alternatives and today’s action shows that a smaller plant was a more appropriate way to meet demand.  If any additional energy needs emerge, they can and should be satisfied with cost-effective energy efficiency and renewables.

The news that Consumers has opted for a smaller plant is great, but the decision also means that Consumers no longer has to submit an integrated resource plan. That is problematic, as it stands as a vital exercise for long-term planning. Michigan needs a process that isn't simply triggered by proposals to build new plants so that utilities and stakeholders can better examine all cost-effective resources and continue to defer nonessential builds.

Consumers sees the purchase as an example of strategic investment to “provide customers with safe, affordable, reliable and increasingly clean energy." We agree if it’s also seen as an opportunity to increase energy efficiency, support renewable energy, and review the utility resource planning process—all aspects necessary in building the best energy policy for Michigan.