Leaving Fossils Behind: A Midwest Utility Tilts Toward the Sun

June 27, 2018

Clip above from a set of astonishing interviews I did at a recent energy conference in Traverse City, MI.

Consumers Energy is the largest provider in Michigan, and has been overwhelmingly coal dependent for a century.  Even just a few years ago their transition to the renewable revolution was lagging even in the conservative utility industry.

Now the company says it will build no more fossil units, not even gas – as renewables are coming in so economical that, such a project would most likely be stranded in the near future.


Midwest Energy News:

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.”

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.”


6 Responses to “Leaving Fossils Behind: A Midwest Utility Tilts Toward the Sun”

  1. earthscience2018 Says:

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  2. Here is the mis information CMS, DTE, and EEI told the Senate Energy/technology committee toil “net billing”.
    Edward Comey – Vice President Edison Electric Institute

    “utility-scale solar systems can produce electricity at half the cost of distributed solar systems” and “utility-scale solar systems can save 50% more carbon than rooftops systems because they are far more efficient in capturing the sun’s energy”

    Irene Dimitry – Vice President Business Planning/Development at DTE Energy

    “large scale solar is the most cost-effective option for solar power in Michigan, costing less than half the cost of small scale solar, rooftop solar”

    Nancy Popa – CEO Consumers Energy

    “net metering customers are being paid far more than their actual generation is worth and avoiding 2/3 of the cost of their energy bill – unfairly shifting that cost onto traditional utility distribution customers”

    Provably false: 1 Solar generation where it is used is the most efficient, beneficial, and cost effective (rooftop). Solar generation in a corn field and redistributing it is redundant, wasteful, a burden on the grid, and an “expense” for electric customers instead of an investment. 2. Homeowner solar provides clean, high-value, on peak electric energy that avoids new fossil fuel generation, pipelines, fracking, and transmission/distribution upgrades to the benefit of all electric customers.

    • Gingerbaker Says:


      Do you think it just might be possible that you have been drinking too deeply of the rooftop solar marketing Kool-Aid, and that the officials at an actual electric utility, who presumably know their business, might be telling the truth?

      Rooftop solar has alway been , and will always be, the most expensive way to do solar, and for pretty obvious reasons:

      1) It is priced at full retail. Almost all rooftop solar customers are one-offs. They are not buying in bulk.

      2) It is the most labor-intensive. Each roof is a different challenge and , to some degree, a custom install. Each rooftop system has to be taken down and reinstalled whenever the roof shingles need replacement

      3) Each rooftop system duplicates every expensive electronic component for a very small total KwH production. A million homeowners, a million converters, etc. Not so with large-scale.

      Also, your point number 1) “Solar generation where it is used is the most efficient, beneficial, and cost effective “, while great marketing, completely misses the whole effing point:

      Rooftop solar only serves the family or the business that owns that particular rooftop. And we need solar for *everyone*. That means for the hundred million or so of folks who don’t live in the suburbs.

      Rooftop solar, even in a place with superb insolation like California or Arizona, is capable of meeting that home/business owners current electrical needs. But it isn’t going to be enough for the future, when everything becomes electrified. Because then all the energy for transportation, heating, and industrial processes are going to be added to the current electrical burden.

      So, rooftop solar will not be enough solar, and we WILL need large-scale as well anyway. The more we learn about solar, the more it becomes clear that there are advantages and disadvantages to both “distributed” = local generation and large-scale = grid-based generation.

      The fact is, tho, that the rooftop industry only exaggerates the benefits of local, falsely disparages large-scale (tales of “evil” monopolies and huge distribution losses, for example) and never ever talks about the benefits of large-scale ( cost efficiencies, the benefits of distribution by grid, the benefits of efficient movement of huge amounts of power from the western U.S. to the east after dark, etc.

      • Abel Adamski Says:

        Whilst I agree in part with your comment, the reality is as is being done in South Australia where home rooftop and battery systems are being installed linking with utility and any EV’s that may be plugged in, are planned to provide 250 MW of power available instantly to the State Grid

        • I think we really we need both. I agree that there are some efficiency benefits to generating power “at point of use” but utility based generation is likely to be more efficiently maintained.

          In my view, in Australia at least, the big issue is that those who do have recent installations of rooftop solar are only being paid a small fraction for the energy they supply compared to what the utilities charge for consumption. It just reinforces the idea that we are still being “ripped off” by the utilities.

          • Abel Adamski Says:

            Yes and No, do not forget that in most instances especially with a combination of battery and EV consumption cost which can be very substantial can be reduced to Zero with the only utility cost being the supply charge. that must be factored into the ledger.
            Add Musk’s roof tiles in the future and the Clear Glass Solar harvesting , in use in Europe and now a new breakthrough in Aust where the collectors etc are built into the glass sheet rather than built into the frame, certainly expensive at this point, but the technology cost laws will apply. The energy harvested may only be a few Watts per metre, but look at the expanses of glass in commercial buildings and skyscrapers.

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