Consumers Energy Receives Poor Grades from Advocates on Planned Gas Investments

A coalition of clean energy, environmental justice, and consumer advocacy organizations released a report card analyzing Consumers Energy’s 15-year Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), which is currently being considered by the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC). 

The report card — which grades Consumers in categories including “equitable access to clean energy benefits” and “avoiding additional fracked gas infrastructure” — makes the case that Consumers has room for improvement in its resource planning. In particular, the report card critiques Consumers’ proposed purchase of existing fossil gas plants and its failure to make strong investments in distributed solar and battery storage. The coalition also points out the plan’s lack of equity programs, which would help overburdened communities access clean energy and lower disproportionately high utility bills. The utility’s highest grade was awarded for lobbying against the public interest, with advocates pointing out that Consumers has been making big-dollar contributions to politicians working against necessary climate and energy policy. 

Consumers also received an “A-” for retiring coal plants. In June, Consumers announced that it would retire coal by 2025, fifteen years ahead of its original schedule. 

The report card highlights a notable contrast to Michigan’s other monopoly utility, DTE Energy. DTE’s 2020 resource plan drew widespread criticism for its heavy reliance on gas and coal, and failure to embrace clean energy. 

The MPSC’s decision on the IRP is expected in spring 2022. The ruling will impact more than six million Michiganders in Consumers’ service territory. 

Members of the coalition commented: 

“While Consumers’ resource plan is an improvement over DTE Energy’s, that’s not a high enough bar for Michigan ratepayers,” says Jenna Warmuth, Midwest Regional Director at Vote Solar. “What Michigan needs is a swift transition away from fossil fuels and strong investments in renewable energy, battery storage, and energy efficiency. Consumers can do better, and MPSC should require it.”

“Our 150,000 members across Michigan commend Consumers Energy’s proposal to move beyond coal in 2025, a crucial step to meet the urgency demanded by the climate crisis.  But the company should reject fossil gas because it’s a false solution that continues destroying our environment,” said Mike Berkowitz, Michigan Senior Beyond Coal Campaign Representative for the Sierra Club. “The utility’s proposal to purchase a gas plant in Dearborn is particularly problematic as that community is already experiencing a multitude of environmental injustices.”

“It is great that Consumers Energy proposes an early move off coal, increased renewables and energy efficiency, but their focus on natural gas undercuts all that positive movement—they need to do even better,” says Derrell Slaughter, MI Clean Energy Advocate for NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council).“Consumers’ plan to replace their retiring coal with gas will harm our state and undercut the progress made towards decarbonizing the grid. It’s time to invest more in energy efficiency, energy storage, and renewable energy that will create jobs, improve our air, and make monthly electric bills more affordable for all Michigan families.”

“The company’s plan to phase-out its remaining coal plants by 2025 is commendable, but it is counterproductive to then turn-around and purchase new natural gas plants that potentially result in emissions that are worse for the public’s health, particularly in communities already suffering from disproportionately large pollution burdens, ” said Charles Griffith, Climate and Energy Program Director at the Ecology Center. “The company instead needs to accelerate its efforts to bring on additional solar, energy storage and energy efficiency/demand response resources.”  

“This scorecard shows that Consumers Energy, and every utility company in Michigan, needs to take bolder action to reduce emissions and invest in an equitable, resilient, affordable and reliable energy system,” said Edyta Sitko, Energy Organizing Manager for the Union of Concerned Scientists. “The company’s plan to buy gas-fired power plants potentially forces customers to pay for these investments even after the plants are retired in the future. Consumers’ plan should instead include more investments in energy efficiency, storage, wind, and rooftop and community solar to help create high-quality jobs for communities that need them the most.”

Published on January 11, 2022