Michigan

Energy News Network: Michigan PURPA Rulings a ‘Mixed Bag’ for Independent Power Producers

Michigan PURPA Rulings a ‘Mixed Bag’ for Independent Power Producers

By Andy Balaskovitz

Independent power producers say recent rulings by Michigan regulators provide short-term development opportunities but also more uncertainty in the coming years as they negotiate contracts with a major utility.

On October 5, the Michigan Public Service Commission issued multiple orders related to the prices Consumers Energy pays to independent producers under federal Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) contracts.

One ruling allows for up to 150 megawatts worth of projects to qualify for PURPA contracts at rates that advocates say are more favorable for developers. The rates had been on hold for months as regulators settled questions around avoided costs and contract terms. Avoided costs are the rates paid by law to independent producers based on the price of the utility building the generation itself.

However, it’s unclear how long those terms will stay in place or how much opportunity there will be in the future. In the coming months, the MPSC may allow Consumers to restructure those rates and contract terms in ways that developers say would stifle PURPA contracts. While the most recent rulings apply to Consumers, DTE Energy’s avoided costs are also under consideration.

Clean energy advocates and independent power producers have been closely following the cases for more than two years as PURPA rules could determine the level of third-party solar development in the state. The debate over PURPA and solar development has played out in multiple states in recent years.

Margrethe Kearney, staff attorney with the Environmental Law and Policy Center, which intervened in Consumers’ rate cases, said the rulings effectively delay certainty over PURPA contracts by pushing them into Consumers’ IRP, which won’t be finalized for another six months.

“That undercurrent is a troubling,” Kearney said. “Do we really want a commission that isn’t making timely decisions and bouncing issues from one contested case to another?”
If the MPSC doesn’t agree with Consumers’ proposed avoided costs and contract terms, the company still has the ability to withdraw its IRP, while granting the utility’s request could harm developers, Kearney said.

“They’ve suggested that if any part of their plan is not approved, they could pull the whole thing,” Kearney said. “The change in the contract terms would strike a huge blow to independent power producers.”

READ FULL STORY

Crain’s Chicago Business: Michigan Offers to Pay Millions for Illinois Asian Carp Project, but Rauner Balks

 

Michigan Offers to Pay Millions for Illinois Project, but Rauner Balks

Greg Hinz On Politics

It’s an unusual plan: A neighbor state would pick up most of the tab for efforts to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. What’s keeping Rauner from signing up?

States nowadays have trouble paying for the stuff within their borders that’s important, much less offering to pick up the tab for a project in another state. And when they do, you’d think the recipient would say yes.

But not Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner. Though the state of Michigan is offering to pony up millions of dollars a year to pay the costs of operating new Asian carp-blocking locks along the Illinois River at Brandon Road near Joliet—with seven other states and the Canadian province of Ontario chipping in, too—Rauner is not saying yes, at least so far.

The usual offer to pay costs for a project located in Illinois comes from outgoing Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder—like Rauner, a Republican.

In a phone interview yesterday, Snyder strongly pushed a “fair share” plan in which Illinois would pay just $132,700 a year of the estimated $8 million needed to operate the Brandon facility. Michigan itself would pay $3.3 million a year, based on its share of the total Great Lakes coastline, and legislative leaders in that state are committed to pay that amount for at least five years, more than $16 million total.

“We’re interested in (protecting) the Great Lakes,” which scientists say could suffer enormous losses to native fish if the voracious carp make it that far, Snyder said. “Why wouldn’t Illinois be excited about sharing project costs?”

Snyder said that regular discussions have been occurring for months among officials from the various states and provinces, including Wisconsin, New York, Ohio, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Indiana. Now, it’s time to act, he said.

“We’d just as soon quit dating and get married,” Snyder quipped. “We’d like to get an agreement with Illinois.”

Michigan is so interested that it will pick up any other state’s portion of the bill if they can’t pay it themselves, he said.

Rauner, in an interview after he appeared before the Crain’s editorial board yesterday, indicated some interest. But he didn’t offer to sign up, either.

“The idea certainly has merit. We’ve been talking to (Snyder) about it,” Rauner said. But “we’re not committed to it.”

Rauner declined to elaborate, but there has been considerable back and forth lately about who will pay for construction costs that could hit $200 million or more.

Since I last wrote about this in May, the Rauner administration has dropped its request to double the width of locks to 1,200 feet to help the barge industry. Officials say barge needs can be accommodated in other locations.

In addition, Congress is in the final stages of passing legislation that directs the Army Corps of Engineers to finalize its Brandon Road study and put a specific proposal on the table by early next year. The legislation also would require the feds to pay at least 80 percent of construction costs.

That still would leave Illinois with a capital bill, but according to local environmental leader Howard Learner of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, other states are willing to pick up part of the construction costs, too.

“Rauner needs to find a way to say yes,” Learner said.

Snyder’s comments came as Michigan released results of a public opinion poll that indicate 80 percent of Great Lakes residents want action soon on the Brandon Road proposal.

READ COLUMN HERE

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Detroit Free Press OpEd: President Trump’s War on the Great Lakes

 

August 30, 2018

President Trump’s War on the Great Lakes

OpEd

By Howard Learner

Summertime reminds us that the Great Lakes are a great natural treasure. Forty-two million people rely on this freshwater for safe drinking water supplies, but it’s more than that. The Great Lakes is where we live, work and play.

President Donald Trump doesn’t seem to get it. He won the 2016 election in the Great Lakes states, but Trump’s policy shifts and budget cuts amount to a war on the Great Lakes. The President’s budgets have proposed to zero-out or cut 90% of funding for the successful Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Congress has twice rejected those cuts and restored full funding of $300 million annually.

The Department of Commerce is proposing to cutting the acreage of the popular Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron along the Alpena to Mackinaw City shoreline. The EPA is attempting to roll back common-sense Clean Water Act standards that protect safe clean drinking water. What is President Trump thinking?

Both Michigan Republican and Democratic leaders have publicly disagreed with these misguided proposals. So have business, civic and environmental groups. Protecting the Great Lakes is bipartisan and nonpartisan.

The Great Lakes are a global gem. They contain 21% of the planet’s fresh water supply and provide a rich aquatic habitat for many species. The Great Lakes support a $7 billion annual fishing industry, and draw tourists who support shoreline communities’ economies.
Military analysts say future wars will be fought over water. Fresh water availability is our region’s competitive advantage. We can’t afford to mess it up. So, why this war on the Great Lakes?

First, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is a common-sense program that supports shoreline and wetlands protection projects, keeping out invasive species and reducing harmful algae blooms. Congress has again rejected the President’s budget cuts and restored full funding for this important program. The White House’s response: a new Statement of Administration Policy opposing this funding. The bipartisan Congressional delegation and Governors strongly disagree.

Second, the Department of Commerce continues to “review” the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the nation’s only such freshwater preserve, and proposes to cut its size down by 90% from 4,300 to 448 square miles. Six Michigan Congress members wrote to Commerce Secretary
Ross explaining the economic, tourism and ecological value of this National Marine Sanctuary, which is a source of pride and income to northeast Michigan shoreline communities.

The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary draws visitors to explore “Shipwreck Alley” where 100 ships rest on Lake Huron’s bottom, and learn about Great Lakes maritime history. It’s not controversial. Gov. Snyder formally requested that Secretary Ross end the review and leave the Sanctuary boundaries alone, but the Secretary denied that request. Under the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, an adjacent state’s governor can veto a boundary change. Gov. Snyder should publicly announce that he’ll do so, and call on governor candidates Schuette and Whitmer to agree.

Third, the Trump EPA is rushing to rollback clean water standards that protect safe drinking water and preserve fish and wildlife habitat. Likewise, in federal court, the EPA is resisting sensible regulatory standards to reduce agricultural runoff pollution that causes toxic blue-green algae blooms in Lake Erie, which threaten drinking water for 500,000 people in the Toledo area and harm commercial fisheries.

Good policy is good politics. The battle for Great Lakes protection is well worth fighting for and winning, but it shouldn’t have to be fought. The public and wise political leaders know better

READ OpEd HERE

Detroit News: Environmental groups sue U.S. Coast Guard over Great Lakes oil spill response plans

by Beth LeBlanc

Two environmental groups are suing the U.S. Coast Guard for its admitted inability to respond adequately to a Great Lakes oil spill and, by extension, the lawsuit seeks to invalidate the response plans for facilities such as Enbridge, which operates Line 5 beneath the Straits of Mackinac.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday in Detroit federal district court stems from comments former Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft made during a November congressional committee hearing, when he told lawmakers the agency is not prepared for a major pipeline oil spill in the Great Lakes.

His comments, the lawsuit said, belie and invalidate the Coast Guard-approved Northern Michigan Area Contingency Plan and violate the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, according to a statement from the National Wildlife Federation and the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

The current plan leaves the Coast Guard unprepared to address a worst-case spill from Enbridge’s Line 5, which could affect more than 400 miles of shoreline and 60,000 acres of wildlife habitat, said Oday Salim, a staff attorney for the National Wildlife Federation.

. . . . .

The lawsuit asks the judge to declare the approval of the Northern Michigan contingency plan a violation of the Oil Pollution Act and invalidate sections of the plan that relate to open waters and any facility-specific response plans created in coordination with the plan, including Enbridge’s facility response plan.

“You are not allowed to operate without a facility response plan,” Kearney said. “If the court agrees, as they should, that the area contingency plan is not valid then certainly one of the outcomes could be someone requesting that Line 5 be shut down.”

READ FULL ARTICLE 

Environmental Groups Sue U.S. Coast Guard for Approving Northern Michigan Plan and Later Admitting Inability to Respond to an Oil Spill in the Great Lakes

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contacts:

Judith Nemes, Environmental Law & Policy Center, JNemes@elpc.org (773) 892-7494

Jordan Lubetkin, National Wildlife Federation, lubetkin@nwf.org  (734) 904-1589

Environmental Groups Sue U.S. Coast Guard for Approving Northern Michigan Plan and Later Admitting Inability to Respond to an Oil Spill in the Great Lakes

Lawsuit Claims that Coast Guard fails to comply with Oil Pollution Act of 1990

DETROIT – Contradicting its certification that the Northern Michigan Area Contingency Plan (NMACP) is adequate to remove a worst case discharge of oil into the Great Lakes, (former) Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft testified under oath before Congress that the Coast Guard is not prepared for a major pipeline oil spill in the Great Lakes. The Coast Guard disregarded the law when it approved the NMACP, while then publicly admitting that the Coast Guard is “not semper paratus for a major pipeline oil spill in the Great Lakes.”

The Environmental Law & Policy Center and the National Wildlife Federation filed a lawsuit today in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan asking the Court to declare that the Coast Guard violated the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA 90) when it approved the NMACP, thereby invalidating the portions which apply to oil pipelines in the Great Lakes. As a result, any individual Facility Response Plan for an oil pipeline operating in the open waters of the Great Lakes, such as the Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac, would likewise be invalid. The U.S. Coast Guard in June 2017 approved the NMACP, purportedly certifying that the plan was in substantial compliance with all of its requirements, including the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.

“The U.S. Coast Guard admitted that it’s not fully ready and fully able to protect the Great Lakes from a major oil spill as required for a response plan under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director and attorney for the Environmental Law & Policy Center.  “The Great Lakes are where we live, work and play, and supply safe clean drinking water for 42 million people. If the U.S. Coast Guard is unable to fulfill its emergency response duties, then our Great Lakes waters are even more at risk from a potential Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline spill.”

In 2014, Enbridge discovered dozens of damaged areas on the 4.5-mile segment of Line 5 that runs underneath the Straits of Mackinac. Environmental advocacy groups have been calling for Enbridge to shut down Line 5 before a major break potentially sends oil flowing into Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. Earlier this year, an anchor strike dented portions of the pipeline and Enbridge was forced to reduce the pressure in Line 5 by 40% as a critical precautionary step.

“The Coast Guard’s admission that it cannot adequately address an oil spill in the Great Lakes puts our most important natural resource at risk,” said Margrethe Kearney, Senior Attorney of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “The Coast Guard’s failure to ensure that there is a plan in place to respond to a worst-case oil spill threatens our access to a clean drinking water supply, our irreplaceable Great Lakes and unique wildlife habitats, and the strength of our Pure Michigan economy.”

“Until we decommission this aging, risky pipeline, we need the best-possible spill response plan to protect our Great Lakes, our communities, our wildlife, and our economy,” said Oday Salim, Staff Attorney for the National Wildlife Federation Great Lakes Regional Center. “A worst-case oil spill from Line 5, even according to an Enbridge-funded study, could impact over 400 miles of shoreline and 60,000 acres of unique wildlife habitat as well as cause billions in economic losses and the irrevocable loss of wildlife and cultural resources.”

 

 

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Ohio Nuclear Plant Decommissioning, Clean Car Standards, Route 53 Tollway Extension in Lake County, IL., & EPA Ozone Non-Attainment Standards

ELPC Breaking News – Actions and Decisions on Multiple Fronts – Ohio Nuclear Plant Decommissioning, Clean Car Standards, Route 53 Tollway Extension in Lake County, IL, and EPA Ozone Non-Attainment Standards

To ELPC Colleagues and Supporters:  There is a lot happening – fast – at ELPC.  Four important actions yesterday on different fronts.  ELPC’s talented staff is drinking out of a firehose and playing to win.

  1. Good News on ELPC petition to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission challenging First Energy Solutions’ nuclear decommissioning shortfalls as the company is in bankruptcy. We just received word that ELPC’s 2.206 citizen petition cleared the first step of the NRC review process. The NRC’s Petition Review Board (PRB) met and decided to accept our petition for review.   Notably, they accepted ELPC’s petition in entirety—no parts of it were rejected.  The next step is for the PRB to substantively review the petition and come up with recommendations for action, which it will send to the Director.  The Director ultimately makes the final decision on what actions, if any, the NRC will take against the licensee.   Kudos to ELPC attorneys Andrene Dabaghi and Margrethe Kearney.

 

  1. Bad News:  The Trump Administration announced its misguided attempt to rollback federal clean cars standards and (probably unconstitutional) attempt to constrain California’s and 12 other states’ “waiver” to adopt strong state standards.  As the transportation sector has passed the energy sector for carbon pollution in the United States, the federal and state fuel efficiency standards are vital to save consumers money at the gas pump, drive technological innovation in vehicle manufacturing to keep American manufacturing competitive, gain manufacturing jobs of the future for American workers, reduce American imports of foreign oil and avoid pollution.  ELPC will be among the lead groups nationally challenging the proposed new weaker DOT/EPA clean car standards in both the court of law (comments to US Dept. of Transportation and, then, likely litigation in the federal courts) and in the court of public opinion.  Please see ELPC press release criticizing this Trump Administration regulatory rollback.  (“Trump Administration Reboot of Fuel Economy and Pollution Standards is a Misguided Step Backwards While Global Competitors Keep Moving Forward”).   ELPC Senior Law Fellow Janet McCabe and ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner will be doing a “breaking news” briefing via conference call for ELPC colleagues, donors and friends today at 10:00 am. (Register to join the briefing if you’d like.)

 

  1. ELPC and ten environmental and civic group partners are fighting back and winning against the Illinois Tollway Authority’s attempt to short-circuit and play “hide the ball” on the NEPA Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process for the economically unsupportable and environmentally destructive Route 53 Tollway Extension in Lake County. As ELPC Board Chair Harry Drucker put it, this “zombie” bad tollway proposal keeps coming back.  While the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning is moving to put on the brakes by downgrading the proposed Route 53 Tollway Extension in Lake County from a priority project to non-priority status, the Illinois Tollway Authority is spending $25 million to accelerate the EIS process.  On Wednesday, ELPC attorneys Howard Learner and Rachel Granneman and partners sent a letter to the Illinois Tollway Authority challenging the legality of the EIS process, and yesterday, the Illinois Tollway Authority backed off, saying that would extend the comment period on the EIS scoping comments to late September.  Please see Greg Hinz’s good article in Crain’s Chicago Business here and pasted below.

 

  1. New ELPC Litigation to Protect Healthier Clean Air in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin:  ELPC and the Respiratory Health Association (RHA) yesterday sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, challenging the EPA’s final ozone air health standard rule, published in June 2018, that excluded certain areas in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin from the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Louis “non-attainment” areas that have smog levels above the 2015 ozone standard.  ELPC’s press release explains:  “EPA has sadly disregarded the plain facts and sound science in making these designations,” said Howard Learner, ELPC’s Executive Director. “EPA has not followed the letter or the spirit of the Clean Air Act and has excluded areas involving unhealthy air quality for millions of Midwesterners.  Cleaner air is essential to public health and a strong economy in our region.”   The Clean Air Act requires EPA to designate non-attainment areas in counties where air quality fails to meet federal health standards for ozone and where local air pollution contribute to unhealthy air quality. The states must then take steps to reduce emissions that cause smog.  In 2015, EPA issued a more protective ozone air health standard, which triggered a process to identify violating areas so that clean air planning could begin.  In the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Louis areas, EPA originally proposed more comprehensive non-attainment areas, but then excluded certain areas in its June 2018 final decision in response to opaque last-minute requests from Governors Rauner and Walker.  ELPC attorneys Scott Strand and Rachel Granneman are litigating this case with policy and technical engagement from Janet McCabe.  Please see Michael Hawthorne’s good article in the Chicago Tribune here.

ELPC is fully engaged both on offense and defense to protect the Midwest’s environment, public health and vital natural resources.  Please let me know if you have any questions or suggestions.

Best wishes, Howard

Howard A. Learner

Executive Director

Environmental Law & Policy Center

 

Crain’s Detroit Business: DTE Proposes Rate Increases, Electric Vehicle Plan

July 6, 2018

DTE Proposes Rate Increases, Electric Vehicle Plan

By Jay Greene

DTE Energy Co. has filed a $328 million rate request with the Michigan Public Service Commission that includes a $13 million pilot program for electric vehicle charging stations that could be the largest in the Midwest.

The proposed electric rate increases would average 9.1 percent for residential customers, 4.3 percent for many commercial users and 4.5 percent for schools, colleges and universities. The rates, if approved by the commission, would take effect in May 2019.

DTE said it needs the increased rates to continue to improve its distribution and generation system.

If the commission approves DTE’s rate request, an average residential customer’s electric bill may increase by $9.42 per month. For example, a residential customer using 400 kilowatts per month would pay $6.24 more under the new rate plan, or $71.71 per month.

DTE stated that the $328 million rate increase is $196 million lower than it would have been because of federal tax reform.

DTE’s proposed EV pilot — called Charging Forward — includes an investment of $13 million over three years to develop charging stations in residential, commercial and fleet areas; rebates to support some 32 “fast” chargers, 1,000 Level 2 commercial chargers and 2,600 home smart chargers; and customer education.

There also would be a requirement that customers enroll in a rate that changes by time of day to qualify for smart charging rebate.

Robert Kelter, a senior attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Chicago, said the state of Michigan and the MPSC should create policies to encourage DTE and other utilities to set policies that encourage charging cars at night, which could lower electric rates for all.

READ FULL ARTICLE

PRESS RELEASE: Charge Up Midwest Welcomes DTE Energy Electric Vehicle Pilot Program

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Judith Nemes

Charge Up Midwest Welcomes DTE Energy Electric Vehicle Pilot Program  

Program could push mass EV adoption, offer huge boost to EV charging infrastructure in Midwest 

Lansing, MI. – The largest electric vehicle charging infrastructure pilot in the Midwest was proposed by DTE Energy today as part of the utility’s latest rate case to the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC). Environmental organizations across the Midwest welcomed the proposal as a positive step towards making Michigan a clean transportation leader.

“DTE Energy’s Charging Forward proposal will go a long way toward filling the electric vehicle charging infrastructure gaps that create barriers to EV adoption,” said Charles Griffith, Climate and Energy Program Director at the Ecology Center in Ann Arbor. “The proposal also incentivizes EV charging to occur during times of day when there is excess capacity on the grid, helping to reduce costs for all electricity customers and reduce pollution for Michigan residents.”

“The state of Michigan and MPSC need to take charge – pun intended – and make sure smart policies are set that encourage the development of the electric vehicle market,” said Robert Kelter, Senior Attorney for the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “If Michigan sets the right policies that motivate customers to charge their cars at night, all Michigan utility customers will benefit from lower rates.”

DTE’s proposed EV pilot includes:

  • $13 million over 3 years, for investments in residential, commercial and fleet EV charging infrastructure
  • Rebates to support approximately 32 “fast” chargers, 1,000 Level 2 commercial chargers and 2,600 home smart chargers
  • Requirement that customers enroll in time-of-use rate to qualify for smart charging rebate
  • Focus on workplace and multi-unit dwelling for Level 2 charging
  • Customer education and outreach program

“Lots of potential electric vehicle customers are locked out of the market because they live in apartment buildings that don’t have a place to plug in, but DTE’s new pilot program will add charging stations where they are sorely needed,” said Max Baumhefner, Senior Attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “This program will help those who don’t live in single-family homes access electricity as a cleaner, cheaper alternative to gasoline.”

DTE’s proposal arrived on the heels of the recent $7.5 million Consumers Energy EV pilot program proposal, and AEP Ohio’s $10 million pilot program approved in April by the Ohio Public Utilities Commission. DTE’s service territory currently includes about 10,000 zero-emission vehicle owners, or about double the current number of owners in Consumers Energy’s territory.

“Michigan and the Motor City need to take bold action to put us on a path to a clean car future,” said Sierra Club Associate Attorney Joe Halso. “DTE’s proposal is a step in the right direction.  We would like to see a program that maximizes the public health and electricity grid benefits that we know electric cars can deliver.”

An M.J. Bradley & Associates report commissioned by Charge Up Midwest on the impact of more electric vehicles in Michigan found expanding electric vehicles could save Michigan families, drivers and electricity customers billions of dollars over the next three decades. The report also found there is significant potential for growth for electric vehicles in Michigan.

Read DTE’s proposed plan HERE

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Charge Up Midwest is a partnership of environmental and clean energy organizations actively working to increase electric vehicle deployment throughout the region in Illinois, Missouri, Michigan, Minnesota, and Ohio. Through Charge Up Midwest, organizations seek to engage with a broad range of stakeholders to support actions that increase investment in electric vehicle infrastructure, create a more resilient and low-carbon grid, expand education of the public and policymakers about the benefits of electric vehicles, and otherwise accelerate the production, sales and access to electric vehicles in the region for all Midwest residents.

Michigan Radio: Environmentalists ask MPSC to Reconsider DTE’s Billion-Dollar Natural Gas Plant

June 21, 2018
Environmentalists ask MPSC to Reconsider DTE’s Billion-Dollar Natural Gas Plant
By Tracy Samilton

Environmental groups haven’t given up trying to stop DTE Energy from building a $1 billion natural gas plant.

The groups are asking the Michigan Public Service Commission to reconsider the permit it approved for the plant.

Margrethe Kearney is with the Environmental Law and Policy Center. She says renewable energy becomes cheaper and more reliable every year.

“And it just doesn’t make sense for Michigan to say we’re going to build a huge natural gas plant, which means of course we won’t be building any of that other stuff,” she says.

READ MORE

PRESS RELEASE: ELPC Appealing Michigan Commission Decision to Approve DTE Energy’s Proposed $1 Billion Gas Plant

ELPC Joins Groups Appealing Michigan Commission Decision to Approve DTE Energy’s Proposed $1 Billion Gas Plant

DTE Energy failed to justify gas plant’s cost, ignored mounting evidence that fossil fuels are poor investments for customers and state

Today, a coalition of clean energy organizations asked the Michigan Court of Appeals to reverse the decision of the Michigan Public Service Commission(MPSC) to approve a massive new natural gas power plant to be built by DTE Energy. The MPSC decision would allow DTE Energy to charge its customers to build the $1 billion gas plant, for ongoing fuel, and for operations and maintenances of the plant for decades to come.  The organizations, which include the Environmental Law and Policy Center, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Ecology Center, the Solar Energy Industries Association, and Vote Solar, contend that DTE failed to demonstrate that its plant was the most “prudent” means of supplying power to its customers, as required by Michigan’s utility planning law.

“We are at a turning point in the electric industry, and our concern is that DTE is rushing the plant through without considering whether it really is needed, in light of newer, cleaner, and less costly alternatives,” said Margrethe Kearney, Senior Attorney at the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “It is critical that the MPSC be required to fully and faithfully implement the law, to ensure that Michigan customers are not on the hook to pay for last-Century technology, when a clean, modern grid is more affordable now.”

“The law is there to protect consumers by ensuring that utilities make good investment decisions based on sound analytics to achieve an affordable, reliable and clean electric grid,” said Sam Gomberg, Senior Energy Analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists.  “DTE failed to do the analysis necessary to justify its proposed natural gas plant, and the Commission should have sent them back to the drawing board.”

In July of 2017, DTE asked the MPSC to grant a “Certificate of Necessity” to build an 1100 MW natural gas power plant to replace older coal-fired plants that are slated for retirement. More than a dozen organizations intervened to oppose the plant, presenting expert testimony showing that DTE had failed to consider a range of less costly alternatives. Multiple scenarios showed that a portfolio of resources such as wind, solar, energy efficiency, demand response and battery storage could eliminate, delay or reduce the size of the plant.

“DTE did not provide sufficient analysis for the MPSC to be able to compare its plant to cleaner, reliable and more affordable options that would save customers money,” said Becky Stanfield, Senior Director of Western States at Vote Solar. “MPSC responded by decrying the lack of clear analysis but approving the plant anyway while urging DTE to do a better job in its next plan. It should have required DTE to start over.”

In states like Illinois and Ohio, owners of fossil power plants are finding that the cost to fuel and operate the plants is too expensive and are seeking bailouts from utility customers to recover these “stranded costs.”  Meanwhile, the cost of solar power has declined by 70 percent in just the past decade, while wind power is now the least costly generation resource. Increasingly, the electric industry is turning toward low-cost wind and solar power to meet future electricity demand instead of risking another generation of uneconomic investment in fossil fuels.

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