Consumers Energy plan a leap forward for combating climate change and saving Michiganders money

Charlotte Jameson, Energy Policy & Legislative Affairs Director

Recently a diverse set of stakeholders reached a deal with Consumers Energy over the utility’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP). The IRP is a long-range plan that outlines how a utility will meet energy needs 5, 10, and 15 years into the future. Michigan Environmental Council (MEC) weighs in on IRPs to advocate for keeping costs low for Michiganders by retiring aging, expensive coal plants and replacing that generation with low cost renewables and reducing energy waste. The agreement arrived at in Consumers’ IRP sets a bold path forward for the utility and one that will reap significant dividends in cleaning up our air, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and saving us money on our utility bills.

The agreement is being challenged at the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) over a dispute between Consumers and independent solar developers. While it is understandable that Michigan’s solar industry needs a fair resolution to its dispute with the utilities, MEC strongly believes the agreement is the right plan for Michigan’s environment and residential ratepayers and that the MPSC should approve it.

Just six years ago Michigan depended on coal for over 50 percent of our electricity generation. Today that’s down to 37 percent. The retirement of coal plants is driven largely by economics: our aging fleet of coal plants costs the residents of Michigan tens of millions annually in operations and infrastructure upkeep costs, not to mention the millions we pay to import coal. In comparison, utility-scale renewable energy from solar and wind along with reducing energy waste are the cheapest energy resources available.

If the agreement is approved, it will ensure that Consumers’ customers realize the full clean air and affordability benefits that come when our utilities phase out coal plants and replace them with energy efficiency and renewables instead of gas. And that is sorely needed in a state like Michigan where our residential energy rates are 11th highest in the country.

Under the terms of the agreement, Consumers will retire Karn coal units 1 and 2 in 2023, conduct a robust retirement analysis of Campbell coal units 1 and 2 in its next IRP, ramp up investment in energy efficiency and demand response, and greatly increase the use of solar and wind energy within its energy portfolio.

In addition to reducing energy costs for Michigan’s residents, the agreement reached with Consumers will also decrease harmful air pollution like mercury, particulates, and greenhouse gases. Consumers will use this IRP to meet its goal of cutting carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2040. A new United Nations climate report demonstrated that we need to cut global greenhouse gas emissions by approximately half over the next decade to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. At the same time, Michigan residents strongly favor transitioning to renewable energy, with 7 in 10 Michigan voters supporting our state moving to 100% renewable energy.

It is past time for our utilities and our decision-makers to rise to the challenge of climate change and give Michigan residents the affordable, clean energy future they want. The Consumers agreement is a huge leap forward in that direction, while also protecting the pocketbooks of residential customers. We urge the Commissioners to approve the agreement and allow Consumers to get to work cleaning up our air and lowering our energy bills.

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