This week, Michigan's largest utility, DTE Energy sent out a press release touting their commitment to renewable energy and promising to go carbon neutral by 2050. But 2050 isn't even close to being good enough, and while self-congratulatory press releases that lack details are nice, actual plans show what the company's real priorities are, and DTE's plan wants to lock us into a future dependent on natural gas and fossil fuels. DTE is in the process of creating and seeking approval for its Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), a mandatory long-term plan that will determine how it sources energy. The final plan will affect the energy bills of DTE’s 2.2 million customers, and it will shape Michigan’s physical and economic landscape for decades to come.
DTE’s current proposal prioritizes short-term corporate profits over the long-term personal, environmental, and financial health of Michigan families. It tethers us to costly fossil fuels too heavily, for too long.
Ecology Center Policy Director Alexis Blizman says “DTE’s IRP treats both carbon emissions and cost impacts on ratepayers as an afterthought, instead of a priority that needs to be addressed. DTE must expand energy efficiency, as well as include greater investments in clean, renewable energy, like wind and solar, to protect ratepayers against both the harmful impacts of continuing the use of fossil fuels, as well as the price volatility of natural gas. The Commission should reject DTE's proposed IRP and send them back to create a plan that protects both people and planet.”
Energy economists, renewable experts, and health professionals have filed testimony detailing significant flaws in DTE’s proposal. One even says it might be the worst IRP he’s ever seen in his career. Lack of concern for climate and health effects in favor of corporate profit isn’t the only problem: another problem is shoddy work. DTE’s projections rely on poor and biased analysis, using outdated information and assumptions that favor status quo operations.
We know that the status quo is no good: Michigan’s electricity prices are currently the highest in the nation, lifetime asthma prevalence is 2% higher here than in the U.S. at large (and significantly higher among those living and working near sources of air pollution), and the climate crisis poses an urgent threat from which Michigan is not exempt.
Environmental, conservation and community organizations have overwhelmingly denounced this plan, and Ecology Center has joined forces with allies to urge a dramatically improved revision to the plan’s content, transparency, and accountability. We filed joint testimony to the MPSC last month with twelve other groups, including: Earthjustice, Environmental Law & Policy Center, Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association, MI Air MI Health, Michigan Environmental Council, Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, Michigan League of Conservation Voters, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Soulardarity, Union of Concerned Scientists, and Vote Solar.
DTE’s proposed IRP keeps coal online for another twenty years. It doesn’t sufficiently prioritize energy efficiency measures to reduce unnecessary energy loss and prevent the need for excess power generation. It overestimates the cost of battery storage. And, it doubles down on dirty, expensive, and climate-heating carbon emissions by transitioning from coal to natural gas rather than moving boldly and intelligently to healthy and sustainable sources that are rapidly becoming the most affordable as well as the cleanest: wind and solar.
The IRP puts forward a small, utility-controlled green power program relying primarily on wind farms, with DTE proposing to sell its wind and solar generated energy at a premium. It doesn’t consider options other than renewable energy farms that it owns, even though options like rooftop solar or third-party competitive bidding could offer significant savings and greater accessibility for customers. Consumers’ Energy’s IRP plans to add 100 MW of solar power by 2025; by contrast, DTE proposes only 11 MW in that timeframe. The 2030 and 2040 targets remain disparate as well.
Customers will pay unnecessary costs as the corporation continues to aggressively invest in natural gas while also seeking to maintain monopoly control over developing infrastructure for renewable energy. Michiganders will suffer the health effects of air pollution and climate change, endure volatile energy pricing, and lose out on opportunities for green jobs. People living in low-income communities and long-sidelined communities of color will be hit the hardest, both with high energy bills and with exposure to pollution.
DTE touts this plan as green, and the IRP does make moderate improvement on past strategy. But that’s a low bar for the utility to clear. Just last year, DTE squeaked under the wire of old law to move forward with a $1 billion investment in risky natural gas without an IRP process. The current IRP represents a far cry from meeting the regulatory standard of being the “most reasonable and prudent” plan to meet customers’ energy needs.
We know that DTE can do much more, because we’ve already seen better from other utilities, including in our own state. Earlier this summer, we celebrated when Michigan’s second-largest energy provider, Consumers Energy, obtained approval for a long-term IRP that cuts its carbon emissions 90% by 2040, with bold investments in solar. Make no mistake: the Consumers plan is as good as it is because organizations like the Ecology Center and environmentalists like you spoke up for over a year in support of affordable clean energy.
We need to keep speaking up now, loudly and consistently, as state regulators gather public comment on the DTE’s IRP. So far, public response has overwhelmingly objected to the plan. Let’s send DTE back to the drawing board so we don’t get saddled with bad investments that spew emissions, costing us for decades to come.
Published on September 27, 2019