Michigan Should Reject DTE’s Integrated Resource Plan, Here’s Why

December 10, 2019 | 10:09 am
Photo by Justin McAfee on Unsplash
James Gignac
Midwest Senior Policy Manager

Throughout 2019, my colleague Joe Daniel and I have blogged on the topic of DTE Energy’s integrated resource plan that is currently pending before the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC).

UCS has summarized why integrated resource plans are so important for shaping the future of electricity service in Michigan, why DTE’s proposal is so deeply flawed, and why Michigan should join other state utility commissions in rejecting inadequate resource plans like DTE’s.

Now—after hundreds of pages of expert testimony (including testimony from UCS), thousands of public comments, and two rounds of legal briefing—an MPSC administrative law judge will issue a recommended decision later this month on whether the IRP should be rejected, modified, or approved. The MPSC will then make its final decision early next year.

The MPSC and its new commissioners have the opportunity to stand up for customers and insist that DTE conduct resource planning that properly values clean energy resources like solar and energy efficiency—and promotes access to their benefits to all households and communities.

Issues of Fairness and Equity Take Center Stage

In November, UCS and several other organizations released a “report card” on DTE Energy’s resource plan. DTE received failing grades in numerous categories, especially in ensuring equitable access to clean energy benefits, in ensuring affordable energy for all customers, and in building community power like rooftop solar and neighborhood-owned power generation.

The Michigan Attorney General and the consumer advocate Citizens Utility Board have weighed in with concerns about DTE’s plan. A significant concern is that DTE shows undue bias in favor of its company-owned resources, such as its own coal and gas plants. Furthermore, DTE’s resource plan proposes that the company build or acquire future renewable generation, even though competitive renewable energy procurements and other available market alternatives could be more cost effective for its consumers while meeting future needs.

Michigan has a high energy burden, with over one-fifth of an average low-income household’s income being spent on energy bills. In testimony submitted by UCS and others, we highlighted how DTE underestimated the benefits of energy efficiency, which saves customers money, especially when programs are tailored to serve lower-income households and communities. UCS and other analyses also showed how energy affordability, air pollution, and climate change disproportionately challenge vulnerable communities—making it even more crucial that DTE correct its resource plan to explore earlier closings of the coal-fired Belle River and Monroe power plants, rather than assuming their continued operation until 2030 and 2040, respectively.

In addition, UCS highlighted DTE’s flawed approach to its operation of the coal plants and critiqued the company’s decision to force its energy modeling software to assume the plants will run even when uneconomic to do so. UCS’s preliminary modeling shows that DTE is historically one of the worst actors of this practice, known as self-committing.

DTE’s resource plan shortcomings are symptomatic of other important issues where customer advocacy groups are demanding improvements. The “Work for Me DTE” campaign, led by Soulardarity and the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, focuses on DTE’s lack of progress in facilitating community-owned solar power but also on the problems of rising electric rates, outages and shutoffs in lower-income areas, and inequitable infrastructure improvements short-changing residents in Detroit neighborhoods.

Will the MPSC require DTE to do better?

In April 2018, the MPSC approved DTE’s request to build a massive new gas-fired power plant despite stakeholder analysis by UCS and others of less costly and cleaner alternatives. Now DTE is leaning on this new plant to claim that it has no need for further resources in coming years—while delaying sizable investments in solar power to the detriment of Michigan consumers and the environment.

What the MPSC decides to do with DTE’s resource plan will send a strong signal on the extent to which consumers are prioritized over the company’s interests and desires. Will this current group of commissioners insist the company fairly evaluate clean energy technologies versus continuing a long-standing bias toward building and operating large fossil-fuel plants? Will DTE be required to treat all customers fairly and equitably—not only in its resource planning but in all other aspects of its electricity services?

In a hopeful sign, just last week the MPSC recommended that another utility—Upper Peninsula Power Co.—change its integrated resource plan filing to remove plans to build a new natural gas power plant while approving a new solar contract and increases in energy efficiency.

Now, UCS and numerous other stakeholders are urging the MPSC to reject DTE’s flawed resource plan and direct the company to redo its analysis. The state’s public utility regulators have the authority and responsibility to ensure that utilities deliver robust plans. The MPSC can also request modifications to the pending plan and to issue directions for future plans should it unfortunately choose to allow the current version.

The MPSC will continue to accept public comment until it reaches its decision in early 2020. Make your voice heard that Michigan deserves a clean energy future that is equitable and fair for all communities.