CLEAN ENERGY

WBEZ Chicago: MeLena Hessel Discusses Renewable Energy in Illinois

April 6, 2018
Illinois Steps Up As A Leader On Renewable Energy
By Daniel Tucker

The Illinois Commerce Commission signed off on a long term plan this week that clean energy advocates say will increase the installation and use of renewables like solar energy and wind power across the state. The new changes mean Illinois is on track to have renewables account for 25 percent of its overall energy by 2025. That would put Illinois among the top states for renewable energy. Morning Shift discusses what this means for businesses and the average consumer with MeLena Hessel, Clean Energy and Sustainable Business Policy Advocate at Chicago’s Environmental Law and Policy Center.

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MeLena Hessel, Clean Energy and Sustainable Business Policy Advocate at the Environmental Law and Policy Center

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E&E News: Land of Lincoln Chases Low‑Income Solar Access

April 9, 2018
Land of Lincoln Chases LowIncome Solar Access
By Jeffrey Tomich

Illinois took a step last week toward shifting its portfolio to cleaner energy sources when state regulators signed off on the first long-term renewable energy procurement under the 2016 Future Energy Jobs Act.

The 179-page plan approved by the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) authorizes the Illinois Power Agency to buy renewable energy credits to help jump-start more than 600 megawatts of new solar energy development, with specific carve-outs for community solar projects and arrays on brownfield sites.

But the 2016 law also tries to address concerns about ensuring that clean energy reaches low-income consumers. Income inequality is a challenge in Chicago but also in rural areas of southern Illinois.

The plan developed by the Illinois Power Agency sets aside $30 million for a Solar for All program that requires the state agency to procure renewable energy credits for solar projects to serve low-income consumers. The low-income funds are divided into four buckets for the development of on-site distributed generation, community solar projects, projects for public and nonprofit customers, and community solar pilot projects. In each category, 25 percent of funds is set aside for communities where income is a barrier or where environmental injustice has been an issue.

Under the program, developers would agree to sell renewable energy credits to the Illinois Power Agency, or the utility in whose service area the project is located, in exchange for an upfront payment that includes an incentive to bring projects to an underserved market.

Illinois joins other states, mostly along the coasts, that have been looking for ways to encourage and incentivize low-income solar development. For the most part, states are creating unique programs that account for their regulatory environment and the mix of energy companies operating in the state.

Obstacles to accessing solar power can be daunting. For low-income consumers, it’s upfront costs, financing and the fact that many rent instead of own their homes. Arguably, utilities and independent solar companies have been slow to nail down solutions to those barriers.

“The lending community has been a little slow to invest in projects where it’s understood the off-taker is low-income,” said Melanie Santiago-Mosier, program director for low-income solar at Vote Solar.

Vote Solar and Grid Alternatives, which was involved in proceedings before the ICC, developed a policy guide to help with the rollout of low-income programs. “I am very optimistic about the low-income program and how it’s rolling out,” Santiago-Mosier said.

Even the most vocal advocate of the Solar for All program, however, acknowledges that its lofty ambitions are rivaled by the challenges and work remaining to realize the program’s goals of creating a self-sustaining low-income solar market.

The plan approved last week addresses funding mechanics, incentive levels and program eligibility. Still, it’s unclear how many megawatts of low-income solar will be realized with the $30 million budget, or how quickly the first low-income solar projects will become a reality.

Participants from an array of community groups, policy advocates and solar developers working together to craft the program guidelines say there’s strong interest in Solar for All, but it will take some time.

MeLena Hessel, a policy advocate for the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center, compares the job of crafting a low-income solar program from scratch to building a house. Many program details have yet to be developed, but she said the law provided a foundation and the plan approved by the ICC is like the framing.

Hessel said both the statute and the procurement plan are purposely flexible and not overly prescriptive.

“We’re still pretty new to figuring out how best to deploy low-income solar nationally,” she said. “Illinois is trying to walk a line that allows some market innovation while protecting customers and providing energy savings.”

“I think the IPA does a good job in the plan of marrying the practical with the legal requirements of the Solar for All program,” she said.

Among the key issues addressed by last week’s ICC order, it seeks to ensure that low-income energy consumers — not other parties — reap the savings. The law requires the Illinois Power Agency to develop the plan so that low-income customers see “reasonable” economic benefits. In its order, the commission noted that while it would be difficult to monitor actual savings, contracts and vendors should have to document and verify that end-users are seeing at least a 50 percent energy savings.

The plan approved by the ICC also specifically requires the administrator of Solar for All to provide guidance and education to program vendors, community groups, local governments and others on how to facilitate low-income solar projects and energy efficiency programs.

Solar for All vendors, too, must detail how they involve communities in their projects and how they coordinate projects with a separate job training requirement in the law.

The law requires Commonwealth Edison to spend $3 million in 2017, 2021 and 2025 to train installers for Solar for All and other renewable portfolio standard projects. The Chicago-based utility made good on the first-year funding in December.

Another provision requires companies participating in Solar for All to commit to hiring job trainees for a portion of their low-income projects.

As with the low-income solar procurement plan, many details remain to be finalized to ensure that the job training program achieves its goals, said Kimberly Wasserman-Nieto, executive director of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization in Chicago.

Little Village and other community organizations are working to provide critical “wrap-round” services to make sure segments of the population aren’t excluded because of language barriers or other challenges such as lack of transportation to job training programs that might otherwise get overlooked.

“For an environmental justice organization, this is where the work starts,” she said. “We’re excited, and we’re also realistic.”

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Illinois Commerce Commission Approval Puts State on the Path to Strong Renewable Energy Growth, Fixes Concerns from Proposed Order

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: David Jakubiak

Illinois Commerce Commission Approval Puts State on the Path to Strong Renewable Energy Growth, Fixes Concerns from Proposed Order

Long Term Renewable Resource Procurement Plan Sets Stage for Job Creation, Investment in Wind, Solar Energy; Programs Will Bring Clean Energy to Underserved Communities

A roadmap for renewable energy development in Illinois was approved today by the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC), and should help the state accomplish many of the promises outlined in 2016’s landmark energy policy.

“This Plan and Illinois’ modernized renewable energy policy put our state on the map as one of the nation’s solar leaders,” said Senior Attorney Brad Klein. “We thank the Illinois Power Agency for their work to develop a plan that will benefit all Illinoisans, and we thank the ICC for addressing shortfalls in the proposed order to pass a strong plan that will drive renewable energy development.”

The Illinois Power Agency’s (IPA) Long-Term Renewable Resources Procurement Plan outlines how the state will accomplish its goal of 25 percent renewable energy by 2025, prioritizing the building of new wind and solar projects. The Plan establishes standards for the solar programs created by the 2016 law, including community solar and the Illinois Solar for All program, which will develop solar benefitting low-income communities.

“The Environmental Law & Policy Center’s analysis shows that through 2030 this plan will lead to the development of enough solar energy and wind power to provide electricity to more than 825,000 homes,” said Policy Advocate MeLena Hessel.. “We’re excited because this plan takes important steps forward to ensure greater access to solar energy through the community solar and Illinois Solar for All programs.”

One highlight of the Plan is the creation of a community solar program. Community solar allows business and residential customers to benefit from solar energy even if they can’t put solar panels on their own property.

“With every policy the devil is the details, and after the law passed, we needed a strong plan to drive growth in wind and solar in Illinois,” Hessel said. “This plan is a solid step forward.”

ELPC is pleased the ICC reversed a provision in the Proposed Order that would have excluded projects built in municipal utilities and rural electric co-ops from participating in the rooftop, community solar and Illinois Solar for All programs.

“We worked closely with solar developers, environmental and consumer groups, and low-income advocates to ensure communities throughout the state achieve the promise of renewable energy,” Hessel added. “We commend the Commission for recognizing the need to expand access to these programs.”

The first two procurements under the Plan, which will be for utility-scale wind and brownfield solar development, are planned for this summer. The Plan’s solar programs will launch after the IPA hires a Program Administrator. The IPA will next update the Plan in 2019.

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ELPC Asks Nuclear Regulatory Commission to Protect Consumers and Taxpayers from FirstEnergy Nuclear Plant Decommissioning Cost Bailout

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: David Jakubiak

ELPC Asks Nuclear Regulatory Commission to Protect Consumers and Taxpayers from FirstEnergy Nuclear Plant Decommissioning Cost Bailout

A Review of Decommissioning Funds Reported by FirstEnergy Indicates Significant Shortfalls, Signaling the Need for Federal Investigation, Strong Action

The Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) filed a petition with the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to affirm FirstEnergy’s legal responsibility as parent company guarantor to demonstrate that it can pay the costs of decommissioning the Beaver Valley 1 & 2, Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear plants, which have shortfalls in their decommissioning trust funds.

“As FirstEnergy is financially stressed and its FirstEnergy Solutions subsidiary verges on bankruptcy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission must require these companies to demonstrate financial assurances that they can and will pay for the full costs of decommissioning and cleaning up their nuclear plants,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of ELPC. “Let’s not risk another taxpayer bailout with FirstEnergy’s management leaving the public holding the bag for the necessary decommissioning costs.”

Decommissioning Funding Status Reports filed by FirstEnergy Solutions show hundreds of millions of dollars in shortfalls in the nuclear decommissioning trust funds for these nuclear plants.  FirstEnergy has not recently paid into those funds. The Callan Institute’s 2017 Nuclear Decommissioning Funding Study found that FirstEnergy has a $2.75 billion shortfall for its nuclear plants’ trust funds.

“FirstEnergy is required to set aside enough money to pay for decommissioning costs in order to protect the public from situations exactly like this one,” said Learner.

ELPC filed the petition with the NRC on March 27, 2018. The petition can be downloaded at: ELPC NRC Petition Re: FirstEnergy.

 

 

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Michigan Radio, NPR: What Will Replace Coal?

Michigan Radio, NPR
What Will Replace Coal?
By Tracy Samilton

The President of the United States says coal is coming back, but in reality coal is going away.

The fight is over what will replace it.

Even utilities are dumping coal. In Michigan, DTE Energy wants to shut down three coal-burning power plants and replace them with a billion dollar natural gas plant.

But environmentalists think there’s a better way.

First of all, there’s no such thing as clean coal.

Even brand new coal plants dump a lot of carbon into the air. Carbon emissions are very bad for the planet, and it’s a fact that renewable energy sources like solar and wind emit zero carbon.

DTE Energy’s Irene Dimitry doesn’t disagree.

“We support renewables and want to make sure that people understand that we do,” Dimitry says. “We just need to do it in a paced, thoughtful, plan-ful way.”

Dimitry says DTE is closing three of its coal-burning plants in five years, but she says it’s not feasible for renewables to take their place. That’s where a plan for a new 1,100 megawatt natural gas plant comes in.

“Because the wind doesn’t always blow, and the sun doesn’t always shine, and because storage is not yet commercial viable at a large scale, we really need a plant that can operate 24-7 and insure reliability for our customers,” Dimitry says.

Right now, natural gas is cheap and plentiful, and it produces about 60% fewer carbon emissions than coal. Still, DTE can’t just build the plant; it needs permission from the Michigan Public Service Commission.

To do that, it has to analyze the alternatives and show the plant is the best choice. So, a fancy computer program ran 50 different simulations. Dimitry says all concluded the plant is necessary.

Not so fast, says Margrethe Kearney of the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

Kearney says if a fancy computer program is told to maximize renewables, and maximize programs that reduce demand for electricity, the two combined beat out the natural gas plant.

“Everything that our experts ran shows that, yes, it’s feasible, absolutely, it’s cost effective,” Kearney says.

Kearney thinks DTE is stuck in an old mind set, one that viewed natural gas as a necessary bridge to replace coal until renewables are ready for prime time.

“Renewables are a legitimate available resource, and by not recognizing that, we’re keeping Michigan in the dark ages,” says Kearney.

She adds that, at the very least, DTE could build a smaller plant or defer building one to give alternatives time to develop.

But she thinks there’s a disincentive for DTE Energy to do that, because the utility doesn’t pay for the plant; rather, its customers do.

“It’s not just that the customers pay for it,” Kearney says. “Part of what the customers are paying is a return on that investment, so DTE is going to make around 10% in profit on that investment, DTE shareholders.”

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EnergyWire: ELPC’s Learner Finds No Support for Coal Plant Bailout in ICC Report

EnergyWire

Governor Requests More Analysis of Downstate Power Market

By Jeffrey Tomich

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) is asking state regulators to further analyze potential policy options to ensure there’s ample generating capacity to meet electricity demand in the southern half of the state.

In a letter to the Illinois Commerce Commission chairman yesterday, Rauner adviser Mischa Fisher asked ICC staff for an updated snapshot of “resource adequacy” in downstate Illinois following a pair of workshops on the issue.

The letter also asked the commission staff for an “evidence-based assessment” of comments received by the commission by early April as well as to provide a “technical understanding” of potential policy solutions.

Fisher’s letter was in response to a 164-page report of ICC’s proceedings to study the downstate power market. The report, made available yesterday, made no recommendations. It simply summarized comments from more than three dozen parties that participated.

While the ICC doesn’t regulate power prices in Illinois, which restructured its retail electricity market two decades ago, Rauner asked the commission to evaluate concerns raised by power plant owners and the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) about the region’s ability to keep the lights on.

MISO, in fact, triggered the study with a May 1, 2017, letter from CEO John Bear to the governor and legislative leaders noting that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rejected a proposal to overhaul the capacity market in the southern part of the state and that “additional action is needed in downstate Illinois to maintain reliability.”

Generator Dynegy Inc., which owns a half-dozen coal-fired power plants in central and southern Illinois, has for years warned that MISO’s capacity market didn’t incentivize investments needed to keep power plants running or attract new ones.

Last fall, a legislative committee heard testimony on a Dynegy-backed bill that would require the state to take over capacity procurement for consumers in the southern half of the state who buy energy from alternative suppliers (Energywire, Nov. 8, 2017).

Critics including consumer groups and environmental advocates panned the bill as a Dynegy bailout and said downstate Illinois has ample generating capacity.

The groups pointed to a June report by MISO and the Organization of MISO States, a group of utility regulators in MISO’s footprint, that showed southern Illinois with a surplus of capacity over the next five years.

What’s more, they say, the Future Energy Jobs Act, signed by Rauner in 2016, will spur development of additional wind and solar generation and energy efficiency investments (Energywire, July 13).

“Illinois is a net exporter of electricity, has a surplus of generation and clean wind power and solar energy and, energy efficiency resources are taking off,” Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said in a statement yesterday. “There is no justification for a consumer-funded bailout of Dynegy’s uneconomic old coal plants.”

MISO, in its comments to the ICC, maintained that action is necessary to “ensure long-term investment in electric resources.” But the grid operator suggested there’s no crisis brewing.

“The short-term resource adequacy outlook is positive for Illinois,” MISO said.

Michigan Utility to Independent Generators: We Don’t Need You Right Now

 

Michigan Utility to Independent Generators: We Don’t Need You Right Now

By Andy Balaskovitz

A major Michigan utility says it doesn’t need new generation from renewable energy developers, and it shouldn’t be forced to pay for it.

Michigan has become the latest battleground over a decades-old federal law known as the Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act, or PURPA.

The law essentially requires utilities to buy power from small, independent producers when doing so will save money for ratepayers.

In multiple states recently, that’s opened the gates for a flood of utility-scale solar projects, which can now routinely sell power at utilities’ avoided cost rate — defined as the incremental cost a utility pays for not generating the electricity itself. Utilities have begun to push back, lobbying for state and federal reforms.

Michigan regulators spent months reviewing how much independent producers should be paid and in November settled on a new, lower rate. One of its largest utilities, though, argues even that number is too high.

Consumers Energy told regulators in December that it doesn’t project a need for new generation capacity in the next decade, and that as a result it should be allowed to sign PURPA contracts at an even lower rate. Developers say they couldn’t build projects with such low compensation.

Solar and clean energy advocates have also scoffed at Consumers’ projection, which assumes the company will continue to operate four coal-fired units through 2030. Critics also note that Consumers plans to build 625 MW of its own wind and solar, even though the Michigan Public Service Commission hasn’t formally approved those plans. Meanwhile, the utility projected growing capacity need as recently as September 2016.

In November, the MPSC approved new avoided cost rates for Consumers, which has 33 PURPA contracts in place across its service territory. The rates hadn’t been updated for about two decades. It also ruled that if the utility’s capacity needs are met for the next decade it could enter PURPA contracts at a far lower “planning resource auction” rate.

The commission suspended its ruling on Dec. 20 based on formal opposition from hydroelectric and biomass owners. The same day, Consumers filed a motion asking that its PURPA rate be reset to the lower figure, and since then at least three developers have objected, saying those lower rates would jeopardize upwards of 800 MW worth of solar projects. Michigan had roughly 100 MW of solar capacity installed statewide at the start of the year.

“These issues need to be resolved quickly. There is a market for renewable energy that’s being paralyzed here,” said Margrethe Kearney, staff attorney for the Environmental Law and Policy Center. “That is going to damage the market and disadvantage ratepayers who want more renewable energy.”

California-based Cypress Creek Renewables says Consumers is stalling 700 MW and $3 billion in investments in Michigan “over the next few years.” And Geronimo Energy filed testimony stating 70 MW worth of plans are on hold.

Six other utilities have pending cases before regulators to set PURPA avoided cost rates, including DTE Energy, which is also seeking permission to build a nearly $1 billion natural gas plant to make up for generation lost by retiring coal units. Critics of that plan say new PURPA contracts could help make up for the capacity shortage.

“It means people want to come to Michigan and build solar at a cost that is lower than (the price) DTE and Consumers could do it,” Kearney said, even though not all of that capacity is likely to be built. “That’s a good sign of a healthy market.”

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Update: Second Bill Emerges in Iowa to Cut Energy Efficiency Programs

 

Update: Second Bill Emerges in Iowa to Cut Energy Efficiency Programs

By Karen Uhlenhuth

Another threat to energy conservation programs has emerged in the Iowa Legislature.

One week after a bill to repeal utilities’ energy efficiency requirements surfaced in the state Senate, a broad public utility reform bill is set to reach a subcommittee Thursday.

The study bill (SSB3093) would let large industrial customers opt out of efficiency programs, allow utilities to apply a different cost-effectiveness formula, and also require each initiative be cost-effective on its own instead of evaluating the portfolio as a whole. It would also cap efficiency spending at 2 percent of a utilities’ revenue.

“It’s a significant scaling back of energy efficiency, and a step away from our leadership on energy efficiency,” Environmental Law & Policy Center attorney Josh Mandelbaum said.

The bill, set to be discussed in a Commerce subcommittee meeting Thursday, was introduced by State Sen. Jake Chapman with support from Interstate Power & Light, one of the state’s largest investor-owned utilities.

Chapman did not respond to an interview request.

Interstate Power spokesman Justin Foss responded to questions about the bill with a brief statement:

“Iowa has been a pioneer in renewable energy and energy policy, providing economic growth for the state. To maintain this leadership position, Iowa needs updated policies to continue to promote the integration of new energy technologies, reduce regulatory inefficiencies, help customers save money, and provide even more opportunities for business growth and job creation.”

Other supporters include Black Hills Energy, a smaller investor-owned utility, the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities, and the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives. MidAmerican Energy is seeking similar changes in its next five-year energy efficiency plan, now under consideration by the Iowa Utilities Board.

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ELPC Joins Environmental Advocacy Groups Call for Pruitt’s Recusal from Clean Power Plan Rulemaking Process

(Washington, D.C. – January 29, 2018) Environmental and legal advocates today submitted a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calling for EPA to withdraw the proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan and for Administrator Scott Pruitt to recuse himself from any further Clean Power Plan proceedings.

Environmental Law & Policy Center together with a coalition including the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Law Foundation, Earthjustice, Sierra Club, and Union of Concerned Scientists sent the letter, which lists evidence that shows Pruitt has predetermined the outcome of the process:

“Administrator Pruitt’s comments about the Clean Power Plan make it clear that the deck is stacked and, unfortunately, his mind is closed,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “Fortunately, federal clean air standards can’t be arbitrarily repealed, but require rigorous, impartial analysis and a decision maker with an open mind who has the interests of all Americans at heart. Administrator Pruitt’s mind appears unalterably closed in this case, and he should be recused from this EPA decision.”

The Clean Power Plan — America’s only nationwide limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants — is the most significant step our nation has taken to tackle dangerous climate change. Once fully implemented, the Clean Power Plan would prevent up to 4,500 premature deaths a year, according to a recent analysis issued by Pruitt’s EPA.

On October 16, 2017, EPA released a proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan. If finalized, a repeal would leave the U.S. unprotected from our largest stationary source of carbon pollution — even as the urgent threat of climate change becomes ever clearer.

“As the letter documents, Administrator Pruitt’s statements reveal a firmly closed mind on the Clean Power Plan; he has described the CPP’s repeal in ways flatly incompatible with the Clean Air Act’s requirements for a meaningful public process before a final decision is made,” said Sean H. Donahue, counsel for EDF.

The Due Process Clause forbids an official from presiding over a rulemaking when the official has an “unalterably closed mind” about the subject matter, and the Clean Air Act requires a transparent rulemaking process where a final decision is issued only after careful consideration of the law, science, and public comments.

“Scott Pruitt’s tenure as EPA administrator is rife with conflicts of interest. As Oklahoma attorney general, he played a leading role in litigating the EPA’s Clean Power Plan on behalf of his fossil fuel industry campaign contributors. He cannot serve in the conflicting roles of lawyer for one side, judge and jury, and executioner of the Clean Power Plan,” said Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “It is a clear violation of law for Scott Pruitt to participate in this matter, and it deprives the American public of an open-minded decisionmaker. If Administrator Pruitt really wants to keep his promise to restore ’the rule of law’ at the EPA, he must recuse himself immediately.”

Administrator Pruitt has also publicly repudiated the legal authority for the Clean Power Plan and described the rulemaking process in ways that make clear that he has no intention of considering options other than repeal.

The groups’ letter says Pruitt “has departed egregiously from constitutional and statutory norms meant to protect the public’s ability meaningfully to participate in rulemakings and safeguard the integrity of the administrative process.”

“Pruitt was dancing on the grave of the Clean Power Plan before the rulemaking process had even begun,” said Vera Pardee, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s clear Pruitt is hell-bent on killing this crucial climate protection for his friends in the fossil fuel industry, no matter how many lives the rule would save.”

“Scott Pruitt is not fit to participate in any rulemaking process to withdraw the Clean Power Plan. His shrill and steadfast hostility to this critical climate safeguard, as well as his cozy ties to corporate polluters, make clear that he cannot be an impartial decision maker in these matters,” said Joanne Spalding, Deputy Legal Director and Chief Climate Counsel for Sierra Club. “The law therefore requires his recusal from EPA’s misbegotten effort to rescind the Clean Power Plan, and we call upon him to step aside immediately.”

Numerous states have also called on Pruitt to recuse himself from the Clean Power Plan repeal rulemaking and for the current proposal to be withdrawn.

PRESS RELEASE: Energy Experts Urge DTE Energy to Choose Affordable Renewables Over Billion-Dollar Gas Plant

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 12, 2018

MEDIA CONTACTS
David Jakubiak, Director of Media, ELPC, djakubiak@elpc.org, (312) 795-3713
Zadie Oleksiw, Communications Manager, zadie@votesolar.org (202) 836-5754
Sam Gomberg, Senior Energy Analyst, SGomberg@ucsusa.org, (773) 941-7916

Energy Experts Urge DTE Energy to Choose Affordable Renewables Over Billion-Dollar Gas Plant

Analysis Shows Solar, Wind and Energy Efficiency Will Provide More Affordable, Reliable Power for Michigan Customers

DETROIT, MI –  Groups including Vote Solar, Union of Concerned Scientists and the Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC) are urging Michigan regulators to require DTE Energy to evaluate renewable energy sources before building its proposed billion-dollar natural gas power plant. The groups presented two separate analyses today to the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) showing that using renewable energy like wind and solar would cost less for DTE Energy customers than building a gas plant, with the savings estimates ranging from $339 million to $1.2 billion.

“Using DTE’s own analysis tools, our analysis shows that this billion-dollar gas proposal is simply not the best way to provide reliable, affordable, and clean electricity for Michigan customers,” said Becky Stanfield, Senior Director of Western States at Vote Solar. “The bottom line is that solar, wind and efficiency can do the job for less, and DTE should not be locking Michigan energy customers into paying for this costly gas option. More clean energy investment is also better for the state’s economy, building on a growing industry that already employs more than ninety-thousand Michiganders.”

Under a new resource planning law updated by state legislators in 2016, Michigan utilities must seek a “certificate of need” if they want assurance that they can pass the costs of building a plant of this size on to its customers.  In order to gain that approval, they must demonstrate that their proposed investment is the “most prudent” way to serve its customers’ electricity needs.

“DTE did not meet its burden to show that their proposed gas plant was the best option for Michigan customers” Sam Gomberg, senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Under Michigan’s electricity planning law, the Commission should send the company back to the drawing board.”

DTE Energy petitioned the MPSC for the certificate on July 31, asking to build an 1100 megawatt (MW) natural gas-fired power plant in St. Clair County, replacing older coal-fired units in the area, which are retiring between now and 2023.

“DTE is overlooking flexible, reliable, renewable resources that can deliver affordable energy to their customers,” said Margrethe Kearney, senior staff attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center.  “DTE failed to seriously look at solar and wind power, battery storage, energy efficiency, and demand response, which would give DTE the flexibility it needs to integrate clean, cost-effective renewables that are good for Michigan’s economy and environment.”

The Commission will review testimony presented by a range of experts from across the country, including those representing Vote Solar, Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC), the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

“DTE’s analysis was based on outdated and inaccurate assumptions about the costs and performance of solar power,” said Sean Gallagher, vice president of state affairs for the Solar Energy Industries Association. “Our hope is that the Commission will put the interests of customers first, and ask DTE to start over with numbers that better reflect reality.”

Hearings on DTE Energy’s gas plant proposal will take place in February and a final order on the MPSC’s decision is expected April 2.

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