Utility releases plan for ‘cleaner energy future’


A utility that serves West Michigan will phase out its remaining coal-fired power plants and rely increasingly on renewable power sources and efficiency to provide electricity, executives said.

The Jackson-based utility released details yesterday of a plan for meeting future energy needs that it will submit this week to the Michigan Public Service Commission as required by a 2016 state law.

The plan is based on goals Consumers announced earlier this year, including generating more than 40 percent of its power from renewable sources such as wind and solar by 2040 while cutting by 80 percent its emissions of heat-trapping gases that cause global warming.

"We are committed to a cleaner planet, reducing our emissions in the most responsible and efficient way possible," President and CEO Patti Poppe said. "And we are delivering maximum energy value to customers at affordable prices."

The blueprint includes a schedule for closing the utility's five remaining coal-fired generators, including the Karn 1 and 2 units near Bay City in 2023. The others are at the J.H. Campbell plant in Ottawa County. Two would shut down in 2031 and the final one in 2040.

It also calls for adding 550 megawatts of wind capacity – enough to power 150,000 to 200,000 homes – by 2021 and 5,000 megawatts of solar during the 2020s, along with increased battery storage.

Notably absent is any proposal for new generators that would burn fossil fuels such as coal or natural gas, although the utility's two existing gas plants in Zeeland and Jackson would remain online, supplying about 10-15 percent of the power mix, Poppe said. A hydropower plant at Ludington also would continue to operate.

The Consumers strategy comes as the Trump administration redoubles its push for coal and nuclear power. President Donald Trump this month ordered "immediate steps" to keep coal and nuclear plants open, describing it as a matter of national and economic security.

Federal energy regulators in both parties disputed that the coal and nuclear industries' struggles threaten the reliability of the nation's power grid.

Poppe said Consumers doesn't believe the nation faces an energy crisis and sees an opportunity to help create "a cleaner and leaner energy supply."

The plan must be updated in three to five years under the state law. That will provide an opportunity for revisions if assumptions on which the current version was based prove inaccurate, such as continued declines in the price of solar power, Poppe said.

Another key factor is further improvement in energy efficiency. The utility's modeling analyses predict a 22 percent decline in demand by 2040 with help from grid modernization.

Chris Kolb, president of the Michigan Environmental Council, said the plan "will improve the quality of Michigan's air and water and significantly reduce" Consumers' greenhouse gas releases.

Also praising the proposal was the Michigan Energy Innovative Business Council, a trade association representing renewable and other "advanced energy" companies.

"Advanced energy contributes to job growth, lower electric bills for Michigan ratepayers and infrastructure investment in communities hosting renewable energy sites," said Liesl Clark, the group's president.

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