Consumers Energy aims for net zero carbon emissions

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Sources of alternative energy are key to Consumers Energy’s efforts to achieve net zero carbon emissions over the next 20 years. Photo by iStock

Consumers Energy recently announced a goal to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2040, the next step in the utility’s Clean Energy Plan.

“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.”

Consumers Energy ushered in a new era with its 2019 Clean Energy Plan, a road map to meet Michigan’s energy needs through 2040. The energy provider committed to reduce 90% of the carbon emissions it generates by eliminating the use of coal and working with customers to use energy more efficiently. Consumers Energy expects to avoid the need to build three new power plants with customers’ help.

Consumers previously committed to being coal-free by 2040 in its Integrated Resource Plan, which the Michigan Public Service Commission approved last summer. The plan included building 6,000 MW of new solar by 2030. The utility also launched a public outreach campaign focused on energy efficiency.

The new commitment will supplement Consumers’ existing plan to eliminate coal, expand renewable energy resources and help customers reduce their energy use.

The net zero goal means Consumers Energy plans to eliminate the impact of carbon emissions created by the electricity it generates or purchases for customers.

“We don’t have all the answers yet, but our Clean Energy Plan is a great start,” Poppe said. “We have the know-how and the time to continue innovating and creating to solve this problem.”

Consumers also may offset further emissions through strategies such as carbon sequestration, landfill methane capture or large-scale tree planting. The utility said it would continue to explore new technology and policy solutions to reach the net zero goal.

Mike Berkowitz, Michigan Beyond Coal Campaign representative for Sierra Club, said Consumers’ new net zero goal was a bold step for the company, but also said the commitment must include a plan to retire the J.H. Campbell coal plant in West Olive by 2030, and support impacted workers and community members.

“It is also good to see Consumers’ plan to build 6,000 MW of utility-owned solar and their dedication to helping customers save money by using less energy,” Berkowitz said. “However, we believe that West Michigan communities shouldn’t have to wait two more decades for clean air, clean water and a stable climate.”

Last summer, while Consumers was touring Michigan to promote a campaign for energy efficiency on the individual level, test findings by the Sierra Club revealed drinking water is contaminated in neighborhoods around the Campbell plant, which is expected to retire in 2040 pursuant to Consumer’s zero coal transition.

The results found elevated levels of arsenic, lead and radium in homes that draw their water from private wells. Further investigation is needed to determine if groundwater contamination is spreading from the nearby coal ash ponds, where Consumers has found similar groundwater pollution.

In response to the findings, Poppe told the Business Journal Consumers shares the Sierra Club’s passion for clean water in Michigan, but its data was inconsistent with what Consumers has on file.

“We have no evidence that off our property there have been elevated levels of these constituents beyond normal safe water standards,” Poppe said. “We want to hear what they have to say because we want to make sure there’s clean water, and if they have data we don’t have, we’d love to see it.”

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