OLIVE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A Michigan judge is recommending Consumers Energy and the Michigan Public Service Commission do more research before signing off on the utility company’s plan to completely shut down the J.H. Campbell Power Plant in West Olive.
Last summer, Consumers Energy announced its plans to speed up its timeline to go coal-free, completely shutting down the Campbell plant by 2025 instead of its previous goal of 2039. But in a filing this week, Administrative Judge Sally Wallace recommended the two parties look at more dates before approving the proposed timeline.
“We strongly disagree with those recommendations. We stand by our plan that, by going coal-free, we will help put the state on the path to achieve (Gov. Whitmer’s) landmark decarbonization goals,” said Katie Carey, the Director of External Communications for Consumers Energy.
Judge Wallace and the researchers behind the MPSC agreed to most of the proposal, but there are concerns about shutting down all three units of the Campbell facility. Consumers’ plans to cover the loss of the coal plants by purchasing four more facilities powered by natural gas. However, three of those plants are owned by Consumers’ parent company, CMS Energy, and the judge doesn’t believe the purchase deals reflect fair market value.
Officials at Consumers Energy stand behind their proposal, saying not only is this timeline better for the environment but it saves the company and its customers an estimated $600 million through 2040.
Environmental activists are also frustrated with the judge’s recommendations. Charlotte Jameson, chief policy officer for the Michigan Environmental Council, says the research has already been done and retiring the Campbell plant by 2025 makes the most sense.
“The record is there. The evidence is there to support retiring all of Campbell in 2025,” Jameson told News 8. “It could take a year to do more modeling and then you’ve wasted (time). You need some lead time before you retire a coal plant, it’s pretty complicated. You need about three years of lead time. So, if we take another year to do modeling, then you’re in 2024. … So, you’re looking more at like 2028 as a viable closure date, 2030. It just takes 2025 off the table.
With the Campbell facility up and running, Jameson says there is virtually no way Michigan can hit its first benchmark in the plan to be carbon-neutral by 2050.
“We haven’t seen a reduction in transportation sector emissions. In fact, we’ve seen kind of a bit of an increase,” Jameson said. “We haven’t seen a reduction in building sector emissions. So, the only place that we could potentially get those greenhouse gas emissions reductions is the power sector between now and 2025. And the only real viable plan on the table for how to achieve those is Consumers being coal-free by 2025.”
MPSC is expected to sign off on Consumers’ plan to shut down the Karn Power Plant near Bay City by 2023 and the first two units of the Campbell facility by 2025. The committee is also expected to approve Consumers’ plans to increase its solar energy intake from 500 to 1,100 megawatts by 2024 and to 8,000 megawatts by 2040. Consumers estimates that in 2040, solar power would comprise 63% of its energy input.
“It’s a great investment for a couple of reasons. One, it’s great for the environment. … Usually those are in, you know, open fields or old farmland that people are no longer farming. It’s great for decarbonization goals,” Carey told News 8. “But also, what it does is it aligns really well with the company’s capacity needs. For solar, obviously you get sunny days in the summer, longer days in the summer. And that aligns when customers are running their air conditioner and then we wouldn’t need that additional capacity.”
The commission will review both the judge’s recommendations and public input before announcing its decision on June 23.