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Your Questions Answered: Hydroelectric Power in Michigan’s Energy Mix

Fuel diversity is vital to Michigan’s energy future—especially with the coming retirement of nine of our state’s coal-fired power plants and increased federal regulations, all of which contribute to Michigan’s looming electric capacity shortfall.

To meet our state’s current and future electricity needs, Michigan must make use of a variety of fuel sources. So where does hydroelectric power fit in?

Hydroelectricity 101

According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), “hydroelectric and coal-fired power plants produce electricity in a similar way.” Both use a power source—steam in the case of coal and running water in the case of hydroelectric power—to power a turbine that “turns a metal shaft in an electric generator, which is the motor that produces electricity.”

Ideally, for hydroelectric power to work, you dam a river of good size that has “a large drop in elevation.” Gravity does the rest.

Nationwide, hydroelectric power accounts for about 10 percent of our energy generation. Globally, only Canada produces more hydroelectric power than the United States.

Hydroelectricity in Michigan

In Michigan, our relatively flat geography and the size of our rivers mean that we can’t be hydroelectric “powerhouses” like some other states. But hydropower still plays a role here:

Michigan’s energy mix is changing—fast. Renewables like wind, solar, and hydroelectric power will play an increasing role in our energy mix, at the same time that we transition more of our electricity supply to natural gas to replace the coal-fired capacity we will lose over the coming years. Maintaining a diverse fuel supply that includes all these sources will ensure Michiganders always have access to the reliable and affordable electricity they need.

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