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Filling the Void: What Will Replace Coal

Michigan’s energy future is changing in dramatic ways. Local energy providers are continuing to transition away from older forms of energy generation in favor of cleaner, more sustainable techniques.

These changes are great news for Michigan’s long-term energy outlook, but we still have a challenge in the short-term: we are losing capacity faster than we can replace it with renewables like solar and wind alone. The question now becomes how to replace the energy generation capacity we are losing while keeping energy affordable and reliable for all Michigan homes and businesses.

Coal-Fired Plants Closing Statewide

Both DTE Energy and Consumers Energy are retiring a significant portion of their fleet of coal-fired power plants. The process has already begun and will continue over the next several years.

DTE Energy has announced the retirement of approximately 3,000 MW of coal-fired generation (so far). Consumers Energy is retiring their “Classic Seven,” which have provided Michigan with up to 950 MW of electricity. By 2030, Michigan will see 60 percent of our traditional coal-fired power plants shut down for good.

Aging coal plants here and nationwide have long been a concern not only because of their greenhouse gas emissions but also because they have become less efficient with age, and the price of coal is growing ever more costly. Changing federal environmental regulations and energy policies make it cost-prohibitive to bring these aging plants into compliance.

But what about all that lost capacity?

Planning for the Future

New energy policy will provide the guidance local energy providers need to plan for and develop new energy generation capacity with confidence. Even without energy policy in place, Michigan’s energy providers are developing strategies to balance natural gas and renewables to provide the most reliable, cost-effective mix for Michigan – and they are moving forward with investments in new large-scale energy generation. By integrating renewables in a smart way, Michigan energy providers will reduce their carbon footprint in line with new environmental standards while keeping energy reliable and affordable.

Consumers Energy is already working to switch gears to natural gas. Recently, they purchased the Jackson Gas Plant to replace the generation lost by the Classic Seven . The purchase cost Consumers only a fraction of the price of building a new plant.

Meanwhile, DTE Energy is in the process of constructing “one of the largest utility-owned solar arrays east of the Mississippi River” after retiring three coal-fired generating units earlier this year. Already, the company operates “26 solar arrays and 12 wind parks” that “create enough zero emission energy to power 400,000 homes.”

The Time is Now

Assuming we can rely on out-of-state energy providers to make up the gap in our generating capacity will backfire on us, according to a recent MISO report, which shows that much of the Midwest will also fall short of capacity in the next 14 months. To guarantee reliable energy for Michigan, our solutions must be Michigan-based.

These Michigan-first solutions ARE possible. But we need swift action on the part of legislators in Lansing when they return in the fall. Local energy providers and other investors in our energy infrastructure need a solid framework in place as they continue to build a new generation of power plants to secure Michigan’s energy future.