Judge's recommendations could mean Michigan misses climate goal

Consumers Energy must close Ottawa coal plant by 2025

As the state prepares to release its plan to make Michigan carbon neutral by 2050, a judicial recommendation, if taken up, would get us just shy of a crucial step being reached.

Administrative Law Judge Sally Wallace recommended Consumers Energy close two of the three units of its JH Campbell coal plant in Ottawa County by 2025. She also recommended the Campbell Unit 3 undergo further study and modeling to determine when it should close.

Judge Wallace's announcement was part of Consumers Energy's integrated resource planning process. Its proposed long-term energy plan goes before an administrative law judge for recommendations and then before the Michigan Public Service Commission for an interim and then final decision.

Charlotte Jameson, chief policy officer of the Michigan Environmental Council, intervenes in Consumers Energy's integrated resource planning with Sierra Club and NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). She said utilities need several years of lead time to prepare for a coal plant closure, and additional modeling like that which Judge Wallace recommended could put a 2025 retirement out of reach. That, in turn, would cause the state to miss its first step toward carbon neutrality: a 28% reduction of 1990 greenhouse gas levels by 2025.

"The only realistic pathway for Michigan to reach Gov. Whitmer's 2025 greenhouse gas reduction goal is for Consumers Energy's JH Campbell coal plant to close," Jameson said. "Any delays in doing so will not only cause unnecessary harm to our climate but impose unnecessary costs on the utility company's customers. Our modeling shows there are several readily identifiable, low-cost pathways to retire the Campbell coal plant in 2025 and fully replace it with clean, reliable and affordable energy resources—no further modeling is needed."

Of the three modeled pathways the Environmental Council, NRDC and Sierra Club developed, one was $255 million cheaper than keeping Campbell 3 open until 2039, its original retirement date. The other two were $15 million cheaper.

"It's important to note that Consumers Energy wants to entirely shut down the Campbell plant, too, and we are so thankful for that," said Conan Smith, Environmental Council president & CEO. "The administrative ruling sadly undermines some complicated negotiations to get that done by 2025."

Despite the disheartening Campbell 3 update, Smith's words speak truth: Consumers Energy made biggest and quickest commitments toward a clean energy future out of all Michigan utility companies, and intervenors like the Environmental Council, NRDC and the Sierra Club are working to see that future realized through the Michigan Public Service Commission. 

Aiding our commitment were positive recommendations that Judge Wallace did bring forth:

  • The full retirement of the Karn coal plant in Bay County by 2023, as proposed by Consumers Energy
  • The approval of energy efficiency programs to reduce pollution and save customers money, as proposed by Consumers Energy
  • Increasing Consumers Energy's yearly solar additions from 500 megawatts a year to 750 megawatts a year. That's like hooking up 100,000 homes to solar panels each year

The Michigan Public Service Commission will review Judge Wallace's recommendations and over 2,600 (and counting) public comments before making a final decision on June 23.

You can join the thousands that have submitted comment. The Commission will host two public comment sessions ahead of its final decision on our energy future. We're looking for people to speak at two public comment sessions, and we have the resources to help you prepare. 

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  • Beau Brockett
    published this page in News 2022-03-07 17:00:48 -0500