Consumers Energy recently had their long-range energy plan or Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) approved. This plan provides a crucial roadmap for how a utility company can source and provide energy while helping Michigan make progress on reducing their planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). This IRP is a great case study in how a utility company can take ambitious action on climate change and the role that local advocates can play in making that dream a reality.
Consumers’ plan commits to slashing millions of tons of health-harming air pollution and greenhouse gases (GHGs) from its grid in the coming years. Consumers’ IRP will significantly reduce Michigan’s power sector emissions and contribute to the state’s MI Healthy Climate Plan climate goals of a 52% emission reduction (below 2005 levels) by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050. Consumers’ plan also furthers the Healthy Climate Plan’s goal of retiring Michigan’s coal plants by 2030. Consumers set the bar for other Michigan utilities to follow, including DTE Electric, which will file its IRP in October.
Consumers’ original plan included several emission-reducing actions like committing to retire its remaining coal plant, the J.H. Campbell Plant, in 2025 and adding more than 6,000 megawatts (MWs) of solar power to the utility’s generation mix by 2040. However, it also included plans to purchase four gas plants, three of which were owned by the utility’s corporate affiliate, CMS Enterprises. If Consumers were allowed to buy the gas plants, they would have continued to emit carbon and harmful air pollution into the atmosphere for at least another two decades, undercutting the benefits from the coal plant retirement, solar deployment, and other measures. A diverse coalition of advocates emerged to weigh in on these measures.
The coalition’s advocacy in the IRP legal proceedings and public discourse created the conditions for the historic IRP settlement agreement to arise. Inside the case, advocates put pressure on the utility’s proposed gas plant acquisitions. They presented evidence of flaws in Consumers’ Request for Proposal (RFP) process and could show how the utility’s unjustified gas-only RFP gave preferential treatment to CMS’s gas plants.
With the benefit of computer modeling, coalition members also provided three alternative resource plans that were cleaner and more cost-effective than Consumers’ plan. One of the alternative plans maintained the 2025 retirement date for the Campbell Plant units, omitted the CMS-owned gas plants from the company’s IRP, and filled the capacity deficits from the retiring coal plant units with more renewables, energy efficiency, demand response, and energy storage. This alternative resource plan set the stage for Consumers' approved IRP.
Externally, the coalition engaged with thousands of Michigan residents to call for Consumers to move away from coal and gas to healthier, more affordable, renewable wind and solar, energy efficiency, and battery storage. This advocacy resulted in more than 4,500 Michiganders submitting public comments to the Michigan Public Service Commission. The advocates’ engagement efforts, internally and externally, created pressure on the utility to settle the case.
On the foundation of this strong advocacy work, a group of stakeholders were successful in reaching one of the most ambitious settlements on utility generation in Michigan's history. That settlement included:
- Consumers moving entirely off coal by 2025 with the retirement of the Campbell Power Plant.
- Preventing Consumers from acquiring the three gas plants owned by its corporate affiliate.
- Commitment to replace the Campbell Plant’s capacity with a combination of renewable energy, battery storage, and other clean sources.
- Commitment that Consumers’ next IRP will include more information about the health impacts associated with primary particulate matter and precursor emissions (nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, Volatile Organic Compounds) from their plants.
- Commitment to expanding public engagement efforts in the next IRP.
- Commitment to building 6,000 MWs of solar by 2040.
The wins achieved in Consumers’ IRP are a significant step toward jump-starting Michigan’s clean energy transition, meeting our climate goals, and improving air quality and public health outcomes.
Much More Work Ahead: DTE IRP
While the Consumers’ IRP settlement was an important win, other Michigan utilities have much further to go. To remain within 1.5° Celsius of average warming above pre-industrial levels to avoid the worst effects of climate change, Michigan utilities must step up and be bold on meeting climate goals. DTE Electric must match Consumers in ambition when they file their 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 as it is the nation’s fourth largest emitter of pollution, 6th highest water polluter, and 7th highest air polluter. For the health and well-being of Michiganders, DTE should retire at least two units of the Monroe Power Plant by 2028, and move Belle River’s Power retirement up from 2028 to 2025.
Moving up the retirement dates for both DTE’s remaining coal plants will substantially reduce Michigan’s GHG emissions. Studies from Natural Resources Defense Council, Harvard University, and Resources for the Future, agree that emission reductions must happen fastest in the power sector. We must achieve 80% GHG emission reductions from renewables and zero-carbon sources by 2030. Any delay in eliminating emissions from the power sector will delay other sectors, like transportation, and make it more expensive to eliminate their emissions.
In addition to coal plant retirement, DTE must include the following in their IRP:
- Commit not to build gas plants and infrastructure
- Exceed Consumers’ commitment to add 6,000 MWs of solar and 550 MW of energy storage
- Exceed 2% annual energy efficiency savings
DTE can make similar gains in its transition away from fossil fuels and toward clean, pollution-free power. The utility will not do this solely on its own. It will require strong advocacy and the voices of all concerned citizens to fight for the climate action we all know is essential in Michigan.
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