From “I Heart Coal” to The Case for Solar, Wind, and Efficiency

December 7, 2018

We are watching giant, coal-heavy, Rust Belt utilities pivot hard away from fossil fuels and towards renewables, and efficiency.
My jaw was on the floor after I interviewed Jessica Woycehoski, a forecaster for Consumer’s Energy, Michigan’s largest utility, and one I know well. Below, summary of a speech by her boss, Patti Poppe.

Simply by running the numbers, Utility execs are getting that renewables aren’t just a good idea, like eating more Kale – but the only way they can compete and survive going forward.

Midwest Energy News:

In a speech this week to a large, business-friendly crowd in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Consumers Energy President and CEO Patti Poppe presented an economic case for solar power, electric vehicles and moving past coal.

The company closed seven Michigan coal plants in 2016, cutting carbon emissions 25 percent without hurting its workforce. As the company focuses on solar in the coming years, Poppe said electric vehicles will play a growing role in the company’s “triple bottom line” principle of serving people, the planet and prosperity.

It’s a big departure for a CEO who not too long ago had an “I love coal” bumper sticker on her car. Here are four themes of Poppe’s Dec. 3 speech to the Economic Club of Grand Rapids:

Solar is the future

Poppe conceded that Consumers previously “fought” solar adoption. Now the company is embracing it, planning up to 6,000 megawatts of solar in its portfolio by 2040.

“We can have cleaner, more modular energy that more closely matches demand,” Poppe said. “It saves everyone money.”

She said the build-out will be “a little bit of both” utility-scale and smaller distributed projects, but active farmland isn’t the company’s first choice for development.

“We should be finding ways to use otherwise unusable land for solar — parking lots, warehouse rooftops,” she said.

Electric vehicles are good for the grid

Before joining the power sector, Poppe worked at General Motors for 15 years. She also co-chairs the Edison Electric Institute’s EV Task Force.

“We can all agree emissions-free vehicles would be good,” she said.

Electric vehicles also have cheaper operating costs, better performance and a longer lifespan than traditional internal combustion vehicles. And by charging electric vehicles during off-peak demand times when the system has excess capacity, “Fundamentally it just reduces the unit cost of energy.”

Here, a representative of the other giant utility in Michigan, DTE, explains their plan to decarbonize.

And yes, 80 percent by 2050 is not fast enough – but given the rate of transformation we are seeing, and knowing that historically, everyone, and I mean everyone, who makes a serious play in renewable energy moves ahead faster, and more cheaply, than they predicted.

More from Consumer’s:

After Consumers’ coal closures, Poppe said all of the plant workers either qualified for retirement or took jobs elsewhere with the company.

Earlier this year, the company announced it would be coal-free by 2040 and reduce carbon emissions by 90 percent while also reducing water usage and waste sent to landfills. The company also does not plan large capital investments in a natural gas plant.

“It’s a win-win-win,” she said. “That’s why it’s not an economic risk to move away from a traditional energy source like coal.”

Infrastructure investments can still save ratepayers

Investing in electric and gas infrastructure while reducing rates “didn’t always go together, but they do today,” Poppe said.

Consumers — along with DTE Energy — is in the midst of long-term, several-billion-dollar infrastructure improvements for gas and electric. Yet Poppe says residential electric customers have saved 6 percent on bills over the past five years.

Big Think:

Indiana is a state ranked #7 in coal production and #3 in coal consumption across the U.S., but not for long. Some numbers just came out of that have spelled the end of coal, in favor of renewables. It wasn’t a political battles as much as it was a clear indicator that the market, in this case, wins out. Simply put, renewables will be far less expensive than continuing to burn coal.

The Northern Indiana Public Service Company, traditionally a coal dependent giant, announced that it will save electricity purchasers – that is, consumers and industries — $4 billion over the next 30 years. It will use a mix of solar, wind, energy storage, mixed with more efficient end-user equipment and “demand management,” to reduce its dependence on coal by 100% by 2028.

It’s also good for global warming: Just one of the coal plants it maintains generates over 8 million tons of carbon dioxide per year.

Mark Maasel, president of the Indiana Energy Association, made the findings clear: “There is no question that there are efforts out there to sustain the coal industry, but the reality is that economics are driving the decisions that these utilities are making.”

The ramifications for other states — indeed, for anyone else in the world still using coal — are huge.

 

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12 Responses to “From “I Heart Coal” to The Case for Solar, Wind, and Efficiency”

  1. Sir Charles Says:

    That’s a great interview, Peter. Many thanks for that! It hits the nail into the coffin of the myth that natural gas would be needed as a “bridge fuel”.

    Natural gas is no better than coal for the climate.

    Also => US oil and gas methane emissions equivalent to 14 coal-fired power plants

  2. J4Zonian Says:

    Stratigraphy

    Yes, 80% by 2050 isn’t close to being enough, and the fact that we keep hearing things like that is a sign (as if we needed one) that almost no one has made the transition yet to understanding that the priority here is not preserving the empire but keeping as many species alive as possible and causing the fewest people possible to die or migrate.

    The speed with which all the corporate heads I’ve ever heard speak on this think we can move is entirely dependent on their unspoken and as yet unshaken assumption that capitalism is the bedrock principle on which they base everything else.

    For me, underlying everything is a layer of democracy, under which there must be a layer of psychologically healthy humans-embedded-in-nature, without which, whatever political, economic, religious and cultural system we choose, we’re unsustainable and thus doomed. Since democracy and healthy people are incompatible with capitalism the sooner people can make this shift and start to embrace radical changes–including recognizing the psychological nature of our problem–the sooner we can fix it and begin to heal the damage our lives and the crisis itself have caused, the better our chances.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      As usual, a bit wordy and overdone, but generally well said and on point. Is Jeffy moving toward a fuller embrace of the rational fatalism that will help him deal with his grief?

  3. John Says:

    Reblogged this on jpratt27 and commented:
    Stop Adani stop opening new coal mines they will soon become stranded assets

  4. Don Osborn Says:

    Great article and while not enough, this is all great news and pointing to a real market sea change. We have gone a long ways from the 90s when SMUD and PGE were the only utilities taking solar serious and SMUD was the only utility trying to create a commercial distributed generation market. Most utilities thought PV (esp DGPV) was the enemy back then (if they even though about at all. When we said we would get to $3/W, they thought us crazy and multiple MWs were “unrealistic”. Now we are far below $3/W and multiple GWs and growing fast. “Love it when a plan comes together”.

  5. Sir Charles Says:

    DeSmog UK reporter Chloe Farand was denied press access to the fringe denier gathering, hosted by the Heartland Institute, which attracted a whopping 10 attendees for its five speakers.

    ‘Green is Great’: Coal, Oil, and Greenwash at the UN Climate Talks

    Polish Trade Union And Climate Science Denial Group Issue Statement Rejecting Scientific Consensus on Climate Change At COP24

    COP24: Climate Science Denial, Disinformation and Fake News at the UN Climate Talks

    Yet Another Benefit of Renewable Energy: It Uses Practically No Water Compared to Fossil Fuels

    Decades of Denial and Stalling Have Created a Climate Crunch

    Kochs Fund Study to Kill Electric Vehicle Tax Credit Via Same Group That Defended Tobacco Industry

    Paris Agreement Fight Could Push US Out Permanently, Warn Top Obama Officials

    Energy Transfer, Banks Lost Billions by Ignoring Early Dakota Access Pipeline Concerns

    => DeSmog weekly update


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