The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, June 29, 2018

Utilities push state's coal plants toward extinction

By The Building Tradesman

JACKSON - Consumers Energy announced June 13 it is "seizing a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape Michigan’s energy future" with a plan of using zero coal for its energy production by 2040. And, DTE Energy has previously announced a schedule for coal plant closures in its fleet, with an ultimate goal of reducing carbon output by more than 80 percent in 2050.

Under Consumers Energy's plan released this month, the company would increase renewable energy from 11 percent of its portfolio today to 37 percent by 2030 and 43 percent by 2040 – helping the utility achieve its clean energy goal of reducing carbon emissions by 80 percent and eliminating the use of coal to generate electricity by 2040. The proposed strategy includes retiring two aging, coal-fired units at the Karn Generating Complex near Bay City in 2023.

"Our vision considers people, the planet and the prosperity of our state and the communities we serve," said Patti Poppe, President and CEO of Consumers Energy and CMS Energy. The plan she said, "will help guide key decisions in the coming years to make us a cleaner, leaner company for the Great Lakes State. This is a pivotal moment in our company’s long, proud history — and this plan charts a course for us all to embrace the opportunities and meet the challenges of a new era.”

The company subsequently filed an Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) with the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) that outlines the path to using zero coal "while ensuring affordable and reliable energy for Michigan’s families and businesses." The IRP details how the company will meet the state’s energy needs with the increased use of energy efficiency and other customer demand management programs and significantly more renewable energy.

Unfortunately, the plan calls for the retirement of two old friends of the building trades, Consumers Energy's Karn Units 1 and 2, located in Hampton Twp., which came online in 1959 and 1961. Capable of generating 515 megawatts of electricity, the two coal-burners have provided hundreds of thousands of man-hours of maintenance upgrades and emissions control work for the building trades over the years. 

Consumers Energy plans to replace that retired power through wind energy. The utility will continue to operate units three and four at Karn, which are fueled by oil and natural gas.

With the retirement of Karn 1 and 2, Consumers said it continues a move away from coal as a generation fuel source that began in April 2016 with the retirement of their “Classic Seven” units located at the former Whiting, Cobb and Weadock sites.

Consumers Energy is Michigan’s largest energy provider and provides natural gas and/or electricity to 6.7 million of the state’s 10 million residents in all 68 Lower Peninsula counties. They're not the only utility in Michigan moving away from coal.

In 2017 DTE Energy announced its initiative to reduce carbon emissions by 45 percent by 2030, and 75 percent by 2040 on the way to its ultimate goal of more than 80 percent in 2050. That came after its announcement the year before to retire three of its five coal plants in Michigan – River Rouge, St. Clair and Trenton Channel – by 2023. A portion of that will be made up with the planned construction of a new natural gas-fired, $1 billion power plant of about 1,100 megawatts on existing company property in East China Twp. 

DTE said it would retire its last two Michigan coal plants, the 1,270-megawatt Belle River in 2030 and the 3,066-megawatt Monroe in 2040.

In March, DTE Energy submitted its 2018 Renewable Energy Plan to the Michigan Public Service Commission proposing approximately 1,000 additional megawatts of carbon-free electricity from new wind and solar projects in Michigan scheduled to be completed by 2022.