Big Midwest Utility Will Exit Coal by 2025

June 24, 2021

Above, my video of last year described the rapid transition of big, conservative, old line, midwestern, coal based utilities to clean energy.
I included clips from a talk by then-CEO of Consumers, Patty Poppe. Poppe became a bit of a rock star in energy circles as she evolved rapidly from a traditionalist (she says she had an “I Heart Coal” bumpersticker just a few years ago) to an industry leader in the clean transition. In recent months, she has moved to Pacific Gas and Electric, (frying pan >—> fire) and I wish her well.
What’s happened in the last 5 years in the midwest is pretty stunning, in that the goals that many utilities are setting far outstrip modest Statewide Clean energy goals – in large part because in beginning to meet those goals 10 years ago, utilities recognized the value that clean energy was bringing to their systems.
As the video shows, the transition is propagating across the heartland.

I’ve been telling people, based on the rapid buildout and good performance of clean energy, that we were going to see the decarbonizing goal posts moved up once again, and that has now happened.

MLive:

Consumers Energy wants to close its remaining coal plants 15 years earlier than planned, the Michigan utility announced on Wednesday, June 23.

The goal is to retire the company’s final five coal plants – which are near Holland and Bay City – by 2025 and buy four natural gas plants to replace the 2,000 megawatts of energy that would be lost.

Consumers is sending the proposal to the Michigan Public Service Commission, which has a year to review and decide on the plan. Also a component – Consumers wants to transition to 90% clean energy resources by 2040.

The plan includes more than $1 billion of investments, said Brandon Hofmeister, a senior vice president at Consumers. Costs to customers would be spread out over the life of the plan.

The new proposal is $650 million cheaper than the company’s previous plan. The company estimates it can save $90 million in operation and maintenance costs alone by running four new natural gas plants instead of five coal plants.

If approved, Consumers would be one of the first utilities in the nation to be coal-free.

“I think it’s a dramatic win for the planet,” Hofmeister said.

The plan would cut carbon dioxide emissions by 63 million tons – savings equivalent to getting more than 12 million cars off the road, said President and CEO Garrick Rochow.

All three of the Campbell coal plants near Holland would close in 2025 under this plan. Originally, two of the three were going to close in 2031 and the other was slated to retire in 2040.

The two Karn coal plants near Bay City would retire in 2023 instead of 2031, if approved, in addition to the Karn natural gas plants.

In total, the five coal plants have 510 employees. Consumers has closed seven coal plants since 2016 and has a “playbook in hand” to take care of workers and find them other jobs, Hofmeister said. Consumers will work with the local communities to help redevelop the sites for a new purpose, he said.

Solar energy is part of the plan to replace the energy from coal plants. But natural gas – which burns cleaner than coal – is still necessary, Rochow said.

“We also recognize there’s some intermittency. The sun doesn’t always shine,” Rochow said. “So we need that flexibility and reliability that comes with natural gas.”

Consumers wants to buy the following four natural gas plants:

  • Covert Generating Station in Van Buren County
  • Dearborn Industrial Generation in Wayne County
  • Kalamazoo River Generating Station in Kalamazoo County
  • Livingston Generating Station in Otsego County

Affordability, reliability and protecting the planet are the motivating factors for Consumers, Rochow said. Energy shortages in Texas this winter and spring have proven why it’s important to be prepared for any weather, he said.

“We need reliability in the state and we need to ensure that there’s no breakdown in service to any of our customers,” Rochow said. “The unfortunate events in Texas paint a picture of what can happen in certain extremes.”

Above, site work beginning last week on new wind farm in central Michigan.

I’ll say it again, this won’t be the last word – expect more announcements, and further acceleration of the transition.

7 Responses to “Big Midwest Utility Will Exit Coal by 2025”

  1. indy222 Says:

    And yet for investors looking to the future, it is Fossil Fuel stock prices that have trounced Clean Energy stocks ever since the election. Check the ETF’s. XLE vs TAN. Stockcharts.com is a good way to plot the ratio. You’ll see the clean energy business prospects are pretty limp compared to expectations, and FF’s keep winning victories in court for new drilling rights.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      Hmm. I wouldn’t expect those who buy FF stocks while others provide direct venture investment capital to be the same class of investor.

      Is the “Invesco Solar ETF” just solar?

  2. redskylite Says:

    Coal is making less and less sense, both financially and environmentally.
    ====================================

    Most new wind and solar projects will be cheaper than coal, report finds

    “Today renewables are the cheapest source of power. Renewables present countries tied to coal with an economically attractive phase-out agenda that ensures they meet growing energy demand, while saving costs, adding jobs, boosting growth and meeting climate ambition.”

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jun/23/most-new-wind-solar-projects-cheaper-than-coal-report

  3. J4Zonian Says:

    Gas is as bad as coal for climate.

    Dozens of studies show so.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      It may be worse for climate when we factor in unmeasured methane leakage.

      It’s not as bad in terms of vertebrate air quality when combusted.

      • J4Zonian Says:

        The studies showing gas (aka methane) to be as bad as coal for climate are counting those leaks as well as they can be counted; that’s how they know it’s as bad. The unknownness of the extent of leaks means it may be as bad or worse than coal (and presumably oil, as we swap partly methane-driven EVs for oil cars). Very unlikely for methane to be better than coal and/or oil, since we do know the methane system leaks at least enough to equal coal’s climate damage. So yes. As bad or worse.

        The known effects of coal- and oil-burning on health and ecology are why I always specify “for climate” when I say “as bad as”. But while the immediate atmospheric effects of burning coal and oil are pretty clearly worse than gas, because fracking is so new, its extreme, long-term effects on groundwater and human and ecological health are not fully known yet, though much more serious than generally acknowledged. Plus, the combination of the sudden .5 to 1°C jump in heating due to reduced aerosols but equal GHG warming, and being (at least partly intentionally) lulled into relaxing efficiency, wiser lives, and clean safe renewables efforts because we’ve substituted gas for coal, may end civilization. So yes, though it’s a different reason than you said, I’d agree that that would be worse.

      • Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

        Gas can be worse for Climate due to natural CO2 concentrations. A un-normalized average of natural gas constituents, of 800 gas fields here, gave 20% CO2. Coal otherwise being the most shitty.


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