Consumers Energy speeds up transition to zero coal

Three plants in Holland would be retired by 2025, years ahead of schedule.
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Consumers Energy recently announced a sweeping proposal to stop using coal as a fuel source for electricity by 2025 — 15 years faster than currently planned.

The new plan would make the utility one of the first in the nation to go coal-free and provide a 20-year blueprint to meet Michigan’s energy needs while protecting the environment for future generations.

“We are proud to lead Michigan’s clean energy transformation and be one of the first utilities in the country to end coal use,” said President and CEO Garrick Rochow. “We are committed to being a force of change and good stewards of our environment, producing reliable, affordable energy for our customers while caring for our communities during this transition.”

The plan still requires approval from the Michigan Public Service Commission. If approved, Consumers expects to:

  • Be among the first utilities in the nation to go coal-free by 2025
  • Use 90% clean energy resources by 2040
  • Build nearly 8,000 megawatts of solar energy to power Michigan’s homes and businesses by 2040
  • Stay on the path to achieve net zero carbon emissions
  • Save customers about $650 million through 2040

The updated plan also would speed closure of the utility’s three coal-fired units at the Campbell generating complex near Holland.

Campbell 1 and 2 are collectively capable of producing more than 600 megawatts of electricity. Under the new plan, the plants would retire in 2025 — roughly six years sooner than their scheduled design lives. Campbell 3, capable of generating 840 MW, also would retire in 2025 — roughly 15 years sooner than its scheduled design life.

The updated proposal also calls for moving up closure of Karn 3 and 4, units that run on natural gas and fuel oil and can generate more than 1,100 MW to meet peak demand, to 2023 — about eight years sooner than their design lives.

Consumers expects renewable fuel sources such as solar and wind will comprise more than 60% of its electric capacity by 2040. Combining that growth with advances in energy storage and customer efficiency will allow the utility to meet customers’ needs with 90% renewable resources.

The transition to renewable sources includes the addition of nearly 8,000 megawatts of solar power. Consumers’ solar ramp-up has started and will continue throughout the 2020s. The company currently operates solar power plants at Western Michigan University, Grand Valley State University and in Cadillac, and purchases solar generation from several sites in Michigan.

To ensure continued reliable energy for the Midwest during its transition away from coal, the company also proposed buying four existing natural gas-fired power plants in the state: Covert Generating Station in Van Buren County, Dearborn Industrial Generation in Wayne County, Kalamazoo River Generating Station in Kalamazoo County and Livingston Generating Station in Otsego County.

By using natural gas as a fuel source to generate base load power, customers will save approximately $650 million through 2040 compared to the current plan, according to Consumers.

The proposed purchases require state and federal regulatory approvals. The Kalamazoo River and Livingston plants are smaller and used primarily to meet peak demand.

The natural gas plants — along with Consumers’ current natural gas-fired power plants in Zeeland and Jackson — would supply reliable electricity for homes and businesses as the company invests more heavily in renewable energy and continues to explore emerging technology to minimize impact on the environment.

Prior to Consumers’ announcement, environmental, community and legislative leaders called on Consumers Energy to take bolder action with its plan to end coal use, including retiring the J.H. Campbell plant in West Olive by this decade and ensuring a just transition for those workers and impacted communities.

After the utility unveiled its new plan, however, the groups expressed approval of the ambitious proposals, while still holding out hopes for the removal of fossil fuels from the utility’s grid entirely.

“We appreciate Consumers’ commitment to move beyond coal and not to create new fracked gas infrastructure, unlike DTE, who have used every opportunity to double down on coal and fossil fuels,” said Mike Berkowitz, Michigan Beyond Coal Campaign representative for the Sierra Club. “This is a vital step in addressing the climate crises and the health impacts of dirty energy generation. We hope that Consumers makes equally aggressive plans as they look forward to moving beyond fossil fuels altogether.”

“For decades, Michigan has spent billions on imported coal, and its demise as Michigan’s main source of electricity is finally on the horizon,” added Charlotte Jameson, program director of energy for the Michigan Environmental Council. “This historic and critical announcement from Consumers Energy to shutter coal plants ahead of schedule will improve the health of Michigan residents and protect our Great Lakes from pollution. However, we are skeptical of the transition to using additional natural gas to fulfill our state’s energy needs.”

Jameson said the MEC will continue to be active in putting forward ways for Consumers to more rapidly transition to fully carbon-free energy, energy efficiency and battery storage.

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