The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, August 09, 2013

Consumers Energy takes steps to build $750M plant

By The Building Tradesman

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) on July 26 approved an air permit for a new, $750 million natural gas power plant planned by Consumers Energy in Thetford Twp. in northern Genesee County. 

And earlier in July, Consumers Energy took another major step toward constructing the 700-megawatt plant by filing for approval of a certificate of necessity with the Michigan Public Service Commission, a decision which is pending.

The filing of the paperwork “establishes that this new natural gas plant is in the best long-term interests of Michigan and our 1.8 million electric customers,” said John Russell, Consumers Energy’s chief executive officer.  “This $750 million project will create 600 construction jobs, about 30 operating and support jobs, and ongoing economic benefits for the regional I-75 corridor and Genesee County.” 

Approval of the air permit, and requesting an OK for the Certificate of Need are two major steps Consumers Energy has taken before the project can proceed. The Certificate of Need process is expected to take about nine months. The other major step for the utility is to arrange suitable financing.

However, in recent years there has been no such thing as a sure thing when it comes to power plant construction in Michigan. In late 2011, Consumers Energy cancelled a planned $2 billion clean-coal burning plant at its Karn-Weadock site near Bay City. And a $1 billion coal-burning plant planned by Wolverine Power in Rogers City remains delayed, likely permanently, because of anti-coal sentiment and market conditions with cheaper natural gas.

Use of that cheaper, cleaner-burning natural gas is one of the driving elements of the Thetford project, which will be built about 20 miles northeast of Flint. If and when Consumers Energy gives the final OK to build it, construction would start in 2014. The utility said when its scheduled start-up takes place in 2017, the Thetford plant will produce about 50 percent less carbon emissions than seven older coal plants Consumers Energy is replacing. This switch in generation will help Consumers Energy reach its greenhouse gas reduction target of 20 percent by 2025.

The plant would be able to serve a community of about 445,000. Consumers Energy owns the 230-acre Thetford Twp. site, which features access to high-volume natural gas delivery and high-voltage power transmission lines. 

Consumers Energy provides natural gas and electricity to 6.6 million of the state’s 10 million residents in all 68 Lower Peninsula counties.