The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, March 06, 2020

Michigan utilities speed up plans for carbon elimination

By The Building Tradesman

Michigan's two largest utilities are accelerating plans to completely stop the burning of fossil fuels at their power plants.

On Feb. 20, Consumers Energy announced a goal to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2040, up from their plan from a year ago that called for a reduction of 90 percent of its carbon emissions by that date.

“Consumers Energy is proud to take a stand for Michigan and for the planet. We are committed to take actions that eliminate our carbon footprint and do our part to combat climate change,” said Patti Poppe, Consumers Energy’s president and chief executive officer. “Our Clean Energy Plan already is focused on protecting the planet, and our net zero pledge takes that commitment to the next level.”

A year ago the utility committed to reducing carbon emissions by eliminating the use of coal and "working with customers to use energy more efficiently." At the time Consumers Energy said it "expects to avoid the need to build three new power plants with customers’ help."

That's not exactly music to the ears of building trades union workers, many of whom have raised a family on building, expanding, renovating and adding pollution controls to existing coal- and natural gas-fired powerhouses around the state.

But this year, Consumers' Clean Energy Plan calls for the utility to eliminate coal as a fuel, and boost renewable fuel sources while continuing to help customers reduce energy use and waste. The company said it also may offset further emissions through strategies such as carbon sequestration, landfill methane capture or large-scale tree planting. And Consumers said "it will continue to explore new technology and policy solutions to reach the net zero goal."

Specifically, the Clean Energy Plan calls for:

*The retirement of two coal-fired generating units at the Karn generating facility near Bay City in 2023 – nearly a decade ahead of schedule. The utility's three Campbell generating units near Holland are planned to close between 2031 and 2040 - making Consumers Energy coal-free.

*Meeting 90 percent of customers’ electricity capacity needs by 2040 through clean energy resources like renewable energy, energy waste reduction, and energy storage. Plus, the addition of 5,000 megawatts of solar energy through competitive bidding by 2030.

*Consumers Energy will use tools such as incentives for customers to use energy more efficiently to avoid the need to invest in new, large power plants. The company’s energy efficiency programs already have helped customers save $2 billion since 2009. Customers can participate in the programs to reduce energy waste, shift energy use to more affordable times, invest in charging infrastructure for electric vehicles and support new renewable energy sources.

Consumers Energy is Michigan’s largest energy provider, providing natural gas and/or electricity to 6.7 million of the state’s 10 million residents in all 68 Lower Peninsula counties.

DTE Energy is also going on a carbon diet. Last September it updated its existing goal to "net zero carbon emissions in its electric company by 2050," up from 80 percent carbon reduction by 2040. The utility said the updated plan ensures "its medium- and long-term plans align with the scientific consensus around the importance of achieving significant economy-wide carbon emissions reduction by mid-century."

Achieving carbon neutrality will require further advancements in technology, such as carbon capture, large-scale storage, and modular nuclear facilities, the utility said.

"Setting the goal of net zero carbon emissions for our electric company by 2050 is an important next step that builds on our existing commitments," said Jerry Norcia, DTE Energy's chief executive officer. "Just as we have played a leadership role in the industry in our carbon emissions commitments, we are committed to playing a leading role and partnering with others to develop technologies that can further reduce emissions. Additionally, we will work with policy makers to advocate for focused research on carbon offsets, high volume storage and carbon capture technologies."  

DTE Energy's portfolio include an electric company serving 2.2 million customers in Southeastern Michigan and a natural gas company serving 1.3 million customers in Michigan. 

DTE’s construction of a $1 billion natural gas-fueled combined-cycle plant in St. Clair is currently employing hundreds of building trades union workers.

In addition, DTE Energy's Fermi II plant near Monroe is similarly putting hundreds of Hardhats to work, with the next refueling outage (slated for 51 days) at the plant scheduled for March 21.

And both utilities have built or have planned major wind farms around the state.