TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) – Consumers Energy will phase out electricity production from coal by 2040 to slash emissions of heat-trapping gases that cause global warming, the Michigan utility’s president and CEO told The Associated Press.
Three of the five remaining coal-fired plants are located at the J.H. Campbell Plant, which sits on about 2,000 acres along Lake Michigan in Ottawa County’s Port Sheldon Township, north of Holland. Around 300 employees work at the plant, which has been in operation since 1962. Exactly what will happen to the site has yet to be determined.
“We’re proud of the work and the men and woman who do the work, and continue to do the work here,” Consumers spokesman Roger Morgenstern told 24 Hour News 8. “We need to plan for the future, and it will be a future without coal.”
Coal generates about 23 percent of the electricity distributed statewide by Consumers, most of it from J.H. Campbell. Burning coal creates steam to turn large turbines that, in turn, generate electricity for some 1 million customers.
“It’s a pretty big percentage.” Morgenstern admitted to 24 Hour News 8. “So we have to look at that. How do we replace that? But it’s not only replacing it with renewable energy, but it’s also encouraging people to be more energy efficient.”
Consumers plans to generate 40 percent of its power from renewable sources such as wind and solar energy by 2040, Patti Poppe said in an interview ahead of a public announcement Monday. She said the utility will also will rely on natural gas, hydropower and improved efficiency to meet customer needs.
Consumers and DTE Energy Co., which supply most of Michigan’s electricity, are among many U.S. providers moving away from coal even as President Donald Trump’s administration boosts fossil fuels and seeks to unravel former President Barack Obama’s policies that promoted cleaner power.
“We believe that climate change is real and we can do our part by reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, and we also believe it doesn’t have to cost more to do it,” Poppe said. “We believe we’re going to be on the right side of history on this issue.”
Coal is becoming less competitive as the cost of producing renewable energy steadily falls, she added.
Power companies are under increasing pressure to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, which are trapping heat in the atmosphere and promoting what scientists describe as a dangerously warming climate that will endanger human health and natural systems.
A 2016 state law set a renewables target for Michigan utilities of 15 percent by 2021. Environmentalists are circulating petitions for a statewide ballot initiative that would require 30 percent by 2030, which Consumers Energy and DTE have criticized as unnecessary.
Poppe told the AP that Consumers Energy will file a plan by June with the Michigan Public Service Commission with a detailed timetable for phasing out coal and supplying its customers with power from a mix of renewable and traditional sources. Commission approval will be needed before the utility can proceed.
The utility closed seven its 12 coal-fired plants — including the B.C. Cobb facility in Muskegon — in 2016, which the company said had lowered its carbon generation by 38 percent from 2008 levels. Its long-term strategy will yield an 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions, Poppe said.
J.H. Campbell has already cut emissions. In the past 5 years, Morgenstern told 24 Hour News 8 Consumers has invested about $1 billion in equipment that scrubs the plants’ exhaust.
Rapidly developing technology and falling prices are making green energy more cost-effective than it was even a decade ago, when many in the industry warned that mandating use of renewables would drive up rates. Particularly helpful are improvements of systems for storing renewable energy for use when the wind isn’t blowing or skies are cloudy, Poppe said.
“We don’t have to make a sucker’s choice of either affordable prices or clean energy,” she said. “We can do what’s right for the planet and the customers we serve. We don’t think there’s a trade-off to be made here.”
Consumers Energy owns two wind turbine farms and buys power from a third. It co-owns with DTE a hydroelectric plant on Lake Michigan. The utility says it is upgrading its natural gas infrastructure around the state.
Along with its renewable energy plan, Consumers Energy also announced a five-year plan for reducing its environmental footprint that includes saving 1 billion gallons of water, reducing waste sent to landfills by 35 percent and restoring or improving 5,000 acres of land.
The utility says its customers include 6.7 million of Michigan’s 10 million residents.–24 Hour News 8’s Joe LaFurgey contributed to this report.