What Will DTE’s Electricity Future Look Like?

June 10, 2019 | 4:04 pm
James Gignac
James Gignac
Midwest Senior Policy Manager

On June 20th, the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) is holding a public forum and information session on an important electricity planning process involving DTE Energy’s electric subsidiary.

This is a key opportunity for residents and business owners to learn about—and share their views and input on—DTE’s long-term proposals for fulfilling customers’ electricity needs.

As Michigan’s largest electric utility, DTE provides electricity to 2.2 million customers in southeastern Michigan. Through a combination of coal, nuclear, gas, hydroelectric pumped storage, and renewable resources, DTE has the capacity to generate over 11,000 megawatts of power.

Photo: Flickr/Tgrab

DTE’s Belle River Power Plant in East China, MI Photo: Flickr/Tgrab

While DTE has taken positive steps by announcing a carbon reduction goal in 2018 and shuttering some of its oldest coal-fired power plants, two of its coal plants have been listed in the top 100 greenhouse gas polluters nationwide. The Monroe and Belle River plants together spewed 23 million metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution into the atmosphere in 2014.

DTE’s Risky Gas Plant Investment

In December 2016, Michigan enacted wide-ranging energy legislation that included a requirement for utilities to develop and submit integrated resource plans, which are intended to be robust studies into the best resources for providing power needs to customers in the future.

DTE, however, sought approval to build a large new gas-fired power plant after the legislation passed but before the integrated resource planning requirement kicked in.

Gas plants are not clean resources and investing in them is a risky proposition for electric utilities. Union of Concerned Scientists and other advocates showed that the cost to build a portfolio of clean energy resources was about $340 million less than the cost to build and run DTE’s proposed $1 billion gas plant.

Unfortunately, the MPSC approved DTE’s gas plant project in April 2018.

An Opportunity for a New Direction

Now that the integrated resource plan requirement is in effect and DTE has longer-term proposals before the MPSC, it is crucial to ensure the company is retiring additional coal plants quickly and replacing them with clean energy resources—not more gas.

Another large Michigan utility, Consumers Energy, filed its integrated resource plan last year that was just approved by the MPSC. Consumers’ plan includes a phase-out of all its coal plants, replacing them with clean energy resources such as energy efficiency, demand response, and a large increase in solar power.

In its integrated resource plan filing, DTE is currently proposing to retire its Belle River and Monroe coal-fired power plants in 2030 and 2040, respectively. The MPSC must closely examine whether continuing to operate these plants for that long is in the best interests of ratepayers. Additionally, DTE’s plans to increase solar power are mostly delayed until after 2025. Earlier investments in solar could avoid the potential need to build another expensive and risky gas plant contemplated in some of the company’s future scenarios.

Stakeholders, residents, and business owners have an opportunity to make their voices heard to the MPSC on June 20th. Let’s make sure DTE moves away from coal and gas and toward a clean energy future for Michigan.

About the author

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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.