In Face of Trump’s War on Renewables, Solar Makes Big Inroads on Coal

June 15, 2018

Above, Michigan’s largest utility, Consumer’s Energy, lays out a plan to retire coal and replace with efficiency and solar.


Despite tariffs that President Trump imposed on imported panels, the U.S. installed more solar energy than any other source of electricity in the first quarter.

Developers installed 2.5 gigawatts of solar in the first quarter, up 13 percent from a year earlier, according to a report Tuesday from the Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research. That accounted for 55 percent of all new generation, with solar panels beating new wind and natural gas turbines for a second straight quarter.


The growth came even as tariffs on imported panels threatened to increase costs for developers. Giant fields of solar panels led the growth as community solar projects owned by homeowners and businesses took off. Total installations this year are expected to be 10.8 gigawatts, or about the same as last year, according to GTM. By 2023, annual installations should reach more than 14 gigawatts.

“Solar has become a common-sense option for much of the U.S., and is too strong to be set back for long, even in light of the tariffs,” SEIA Chief Executive Officer Abigail Ross Hopper said in a statement.

Detroit News:

Consumers Energy said Wednesday it will stop using coal to generate electricity by 2040.

The announcement comes as the utility company files a plan this week with the Michigan Public Service Commission outlining how it will meet that goal. The company said it will increase its use of renewable resources, especially solar, and begin closing its remaining five coal-fired units in 2023.

“We know as an energy company we have an impact on the planet,” said Patti Poppe, president and CEO of Consumers and its parent, CMS Energy, “and we intend our impact to be positive and, in fact, to leave that better than we found it. Michigan can be seen as a leader in clean energy and a leader nationally in clean and affordable energy.”

Consumers’ announcement comes as inexpensive natural gas and renewable electricity has brought serious competition to coal-fired power plants. DTE Energy Co. said in May 2017 that it would close its five coal plants in Michigan by 2040.


The Trump administration earlier this month, however, proposed a plan to stop the shutdown of coal and nuclear power plants, citing concerns over the national power grid’s resiliency to weather disasters and cyberattacks. During his campaign, the president promised he would save coal jobs in the United States.

As a part of its plan, Consumers would close two coal-fired generating units at Karn Generating Complex in Hampton Township in 2023. The remaining two units at that facility would close in 2031, along with two units at the J.H. Campbell Plant in West Olive. A third unit at Campbell would serve consumers until 2040. Their retirement follows the closure of seven coal units in 2016.

Three hundred people work at Karn. Campbell employs 250 people at its first two units and another 60 people at its third.

Consumers would increase renewable energy from 11 percent to 37 percent by 2030 and 43 percent by 2040. It would add 5,000 megawatt of solar energy throughout the 2020s in addition to wind and battery storage. The company also plans by 2040 to decrease carbon emissions by 80 percent from 2005 levels.

The plan expects by 2040 a 22 percent decrease in electricity demand by improving and updating demand response, energy efficiency and the power grid.

Consumers Energy, Michigan’s largest energy provider, serves 6.7 million residents in the Lower Peninsula.

Michigan Climate Action Network:

The CEO of one of Michigan’s largest utilities says solar is a better long-term investment than new natural gas plants. Consumers Energy, which previously announced plans to close its coal-fired power plants by 2040, said Wednesday that — unlike other Michigan utilities — it won’t seek to replace coal with new natural gas capacity.

Building a natural gas plant would risk stranding the company’s capital in a single asset, after which there would be “no turning back,” said Consumers President and CEO Patti Poppe. Instead, the company plans to bet on solar, which can be built incrementally as needed.

“We think we have the opportunity of a generation with this clean energy plan to reshape how energy is delivered to the state of Michigan,” Poppe said, noting an emphasis on smaller, more distributed generation. “This avoids big bets on large, new fossil fuel generation plants.”

The announcement comes ahead of a formal Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) that will be filed with state regulators Friday. The long-term utility forecasts are required under 2016 state energy laws and give a much-anticipated look into the role clean energy will play in meeting future demand. Plans will be filed at least every five years.

Consumers’ projected portfolio looks much different in 2040 than it does today. By then, renewable energy is projected to increase from 10 percent to 43 percent of its portfolio, mostly with solar. The company also plans to increase investments in energy efficiency and demand response.

Coal makes up 32 percent of Consumers’ supply today. The company plans to eliminate its coal supply by 2040, and also end power purchase agreements for nuclear and natural gas capacity. By 2040, the share of natural gas in its portfolio will drop from 12 percent to 10 percent.

The remaining 47 percent of Consumers’ portfolio will come from market purchases and energy storage (6 percent).

Consumers said it plans to add 550 MW of wind to meet the state’s 15 percent renewable portfolio standard by 2021, but a large majority of its renewable portfolio will come from solar. The company proposed 5,000 MW of solar by 2040, which will be ramped up in the 2020s to prepare for coal retirements. Poppe said capacity would be met by company-owned and contracted projects. Consumers currently has 12 MW of solar.

“Those market opportunities need to be competitively priced,” Poppe said.

In a conference call with reporters, Poppe said solar is a better investment for the company and shareholders than a large natural gas plant. Two gas plants Consumers owns — along with a hydro pumped storage facility — provide enough baseload power to support more renewables, she said.

The company’s long-term modeling “found renewables with cost declines and energy efficiency and demand response as more economical than natural gas plants,” said Brandon Hofmeister, Consumers’ senior vice president of governmental, regulatory and public affairs.

Poppe said it’s about having a leaner generation network.

“Solar is available when Michigan needs it,” Poppe said. “Rather than building a baseload plant that is severely underutilized, we can build the right size of solar for when it’s available on peak days.”

One Response to “In Face of Trump’s War on Renewables, Solar Makes Big Inroads on Coal”

  1. neilrieck Says:

    Everyone here should read the first news item in New Scientist (June 15, 2018):

    The first two paragraphs:

    LAST week, President Donald Trump ordered the Department of Energy to “prepare immediate steps” to prevent the closure of unprofitable coal and nuclear plants. This comes almost a year to the day after he withdrew the US from the Paris climate agreement.

    The move was dressed up as a way of ensuring the country’s electricity grid remains reliable and secure. But given Trump’s campaign promises, and recent reports identifying no immediate threat to US grid reliability, it is hard not to conclude that his true aim is to prop up the dying coal industry.

    personal comment: while Trump will gain political points promoting this form of corporate socialism (all energy producers in the US are corporations) it will make allow people outside of the USA to develop and patent new green technology. As Winston Churchill once said, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.” Let’s hope that Trumps actions don’t place the yanks too far at the back of the pack.

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