Utility unveils pilot carbon-offset plan

Madcap Coffee is first to join DTE’s Natural Gas Balance program.
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Grand Rapids-based Madcap Coffee has signed on for the highest level of commitment to offset greenhouse gas emissions. Courtesy Madcap Coffee

As part of DTE Energy’s 2050 net zero commitment, DTE Gas announced that it will offer customers a new way to reduce their carbon footprint.

The program, called CleanVision Natural Gas Balance, is the first in the nation to include both carbon offsets and renewable natural gas.

The pilot program is approved by the Michigan Public Services Commission and was launched to the public in January.

Dan Brudzynski, DTE vice president of gas sales and supply, said the utility has a goal of 50,000 participating customers over the next decade, which will be equivalent to offsetting approximately 1 million metric tons of carbon out of the environment.

The carbon offset program is focused on protecting Michigan forests that naturally absorb greenhouse gases. The program goals are achieved through two environmentally friendly components: renewable natural gas and Michigan forest preservation.

“The beauty of our program is it’s a Pure Michigan-oriented program with a renewably sourced natural gas,” Brudzynski said. “Combined with that is the other element of carbon footprint mitigation, which is offsetting the remaining carbon footprint by tapping into natural carbon sinks.”

DTE began investing in renewable natural gas more than 20 years ago and has since built a network of sources for Natural Gas Balance whereby landfill emissions and wastewater treatment plant byproducts are transformed into fuel that heats homes and powers businesses and cars.

The utility is purchasing this renewable gas from a landfill in Canton. Pending local approval, DTE also will be able to source natural gas from the Grand Rapids wastewater treatment facility later in 2021.

Through Michigan forest preservation, DTE customers not only support the removal of greenhouse gases, but also preserve one of Michigan’s greatest natural assets. The program follows the American Carbon Registry methodology and protocol to quantify and report greenhouse gas reduction benefits that result from the forestry projects in the program.

Brudzynski said customers who enter into the program are helping preserve thousands of acres of forestry across 14 counties in the Upper Peninsula, and there will be no future development on the property.

Natural Gas Balance offers customers a way to affordably offset 25% to 100% of greenhouse gas emissions from an average home’s natural gas use. Participation is flexible, as there are four levels of commitment. Level 1 has a $4 monthly cost for a 25% offset, and Level 4 has a $16 monthly cost for the full 100% offset.

Participation will begin on the customer’s next billing cycle, and customers also can change their level of participation once per month.

Grand Rapids-based Madcap Coffee joined the program as DTE’s first Natural Gas Balance customer. Madcap’s mission as a specialty roaster is to use the business of coffee to promote positive change, whether that’s making premium coffee more widely accessible or using it to solve big challenges like sustainability.

Trevor Corlett, founder and co-owner of Madcap Coffee, said he already had been looking for ways to lessen his company’s carbon footprint. According to a paper published by the Specialty Coffee Association, retail proved to be the worst pollutant aspect of the coffee supply chain.

“We expected the transportation process of moving coffee from Brazil to Grand Rapids would be a significant carbon footprint,” Corlett said. “As they dug into it, the amount of waste that a coffee retail shop puts out proved to have an even bigger carbon footprint.”

Corlett said Madcap invests in high-quality water filtration systems that produce a lot of waste. Additionally, most coffee shops have been 100% to-go because of COVID-19-related shutdowns since March, resulting in an uptick of disposable container usage. While the majority of Madcap’s paper products are compostable, coffee shops in general are putting out even more waste.

Madcap chose to enter the Natural Gas Balance at the full $16 level, which for a small business is easily accessible, Corlett said.

“Even as an individual consumer, if I can only contribute $4, it’s nice to know I’m part of the environmental sustainability in the area,’ he said.

DTE and Madcap Coffee also are offering a $10 Madcap Coffee gift card for the first 200 customers who sign up for the Natural Gas Balance program.

“We’re proud to have a local Michigan company with such a strong commitment to sustainability become the first new member of this program,” said Matthew Paul, president and chief operating officer, DTE Gas. “When we announced our 2050 net zero emissions commitment last year, we promised our customers that they could join us on this journey. Natural Gas Balance is the fulfilment of that promise and empowers both residential and small business customers to work with us to make Michigan a cleaner, healthier place to live.”

DTE Gas’ ambitious 2050 net zero plan includes suppliers and customers, as well as its own gas operations. The clean energy commitment, combined with customer participation in sustainability programs like Natural Gas Balance and energy efficiency, hopes to reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by more than 6 million metric tons by 2050 — the equivalent of offsetting natural gas emissions of 1 million homes or taking 1.3 million cars off the road annually.

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