A Big Week for Clean Energy in Michigan

April 28, 2022 | 1:10 pm
Office of Governor Gretchen Whitmer
James Gignac
Midwest Senior Policy Manager

Last week was a big one for clean energy in Michigan.

First, Union of Concerned Scientists and the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition released a new report on how Michigan and other states can achieve 100-percent renewable energy standards that benefit all communities. Then, Gov. Whitmer announced the MI Healthy Climate Plan, a roadmap for meeting the state’s carbon pollution reduction goals. And, in between, Consumers Energy—an investor-owned utility that provides electricity to nearly 2 million customers—submitted a proposed settlement agreement on its integrated resource plan pending before the Michigan Public Service Commission.

The Consumers settlement is a historic one for many reasons, so let’s take a look at some of the major components and how they connect with our 100-percent report and the MI Healthy Climate Plan:

Getting off coal, quickly. The proposed settlement confirms Consumers’ plan to retire all its coal-fired power plants by 2025, which would make it one of the first utilities in the Midwest to go coal-free. Consumers’ approach is also in line with the MI Healthy Climate Plan’s goal to phase out Michigan’s remaining coal-fired power plants by 2030. Our modeling for our 100-percent report included Consumers’ coal plant commitments. It also examined a scenario in which all of Michigan’s coal plants—including DTE Energy’s Monroe plant—retire by 2030. That approach would produce even bigger savings than the $15 billion in avoided public health costs we calculated under a 100-percent renewable electricity standard alone.

No new gas plants. To achieve Michigan’s climate goals, it is imperative that utilities not build new gas-fired power plants, which would only swap one fossil fuel for another and put ratepayers on the hook to pay off debt for plants that become uneconomic to run. Consumers’ plan wisely avoids that risky path. Likewise, our 100-percent report scenario with 2030 coal plant retirements also included a restriction on new gas combined cycle plants in Michigan.

Check out how much better pollution reductions are under this “restricted fossil fuel” scenario:

Graphic from the fact sheet “On the Road to 100-Percent
Renewables for Michigan

Reducing reliance on existing gas plants. Consumers originally proposed to acquire four existing gas plants in its resource plan. Under the settlement agreement, Consumers would only purchase one and—notably—would not acquire the Dearborn Industrial Generation plant that expert testimony showed is particularly concerning from an environmental justice perspective due to its high pollution emission rates and location in a densely populated area that suffers from high cumulative health impacts and socioeconomic burdens.

A lot of new solar. The settlement agreement by Consumers confirms its plans to add more than 8,000 megawatts of new solar resources by 2040. This is a strong step toward the MI Healthy Climate Plan’s goal of achieving 60 percent of Michigan’s electricity generation from renewable energy by 2030. However, our 100-percent report shows how Michigan could be bolder and enact a 100-percent renewable energy standard by 2035 and documents the tremendous health and economic benefits such a policy could produce for the state.

Modeling distributed solar as a resource. Thanks in large part to the work of our colleagues at Vote Solar, Consumers’ settlement agreement includes a commitment to evaluate customer-owned resources, such as rooftop solar, as options to pursue in future resource plans. The MI Healthy Climate Plan identifies the need to make distributed solar more favorable to Michigan customers, and previous work by UCS and Soulardarity demonstrates how better solar policies are needed to enable communities to pursue local clean energy.

Public health, environmental justice, and community engagement. Another key aspect of Consumers’ settlement is an agreement by the company to conduct public health and environmental justice analyses as part of its next resource plan. UCS and our partners sponsored expert testimony to the Michigan Public Service Commission by Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Healthy Energy on how to better assess equity and the environment. Many of its recommendations are reflected in the agreement, as well as expanded measures for community input and consultation championed by such organizations as the Urban Core Collective.

The Path Ahead

While we have a lot to celebrate when it comes to Michigan and clean energy—a historic settlement agreement, a climate action roadmap for the state, and new research showing the benefits and feasibility of 100-percent renewable electricity standards—the work is just starting in many ways.

First up, the Michigan Public Service Commission needs to approve the proposed settlement agreement by Consumers Energy. We need to build momentum to enact policies and create programs outlined in the MI Healthy Climate Plan. Along the way, we have to challenge policymakers to be more ambitious and push for such goals as 100-percent renewable electricity and moving away from fossil fuels entirely. It may seem daunting, but the transformation is possible, and the future can be bright. Let’s get to work.

About the author

More from James

James Gignac is Midwest Senior Policy Manager for the Climate & Energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Prior to joining UCS, Mr. Gignac served as environmental and energy counsel and as assistant attorney general to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, where he worked on a variety of regulatory, legislative, and litigation matters involving clean energy, climate change, and environmental protection.