Fight to Stop DTE Gas Plant Isn’t Over Yet

Over the past year, we’ve worked tirelessly to advocate against DTE Energy’s proposal to open a massive new natural gas plant. With our many partners, we’ve educated the public, rallied community action to gather 5,000 petition signatures, and helped frame technical analysis and legal strategy for filings and testimony to the Michigan Public Service Commission. Unfortunately, the Commission approved DTE’s proposed gas plant on April 27, but the battle isn’t over yet, and we’re not giving up on trying to stop this billion dollar mistake.

The Ecology Center is standing united with fellow environmental organizations in asking the state to reconsider its decision and to hold DTE accountable to Michigan’s legal standards. With our partners, we’re asking the Michigan Court of Appeals to reverse the Commission’s decision, and we’re supporting a Petition for Rehearing to the Commission itself. We’re working in a coalition with the Environmental Law and Policy Center, The Solar Energy Industries Association, The Union of Concerned Scientists, and Vote Solar; and the Michigan Environmental Council, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Sierra Club are fighting this fight with us, too.

Under utility reform advocated and signed into law by Rick Snyder in 2016, an energy provider can only charge customers for the cost of a new power plant over $100 million if it receives a “certificate of necessity” from the state. The utility must demonstrate not only that the new plant is both a necessity for consumers, but also that its design plan represents the most cost-effective option. However, the commission acknowledges an array of problems with DTE’s analysis in support of the gas plant, which is riddled with oversights and flaws. It fails, for example, to account for risk factors such as natural gas price spikes, and it relies on inaccurate assumptions about the cost and performance of renewable energy options. We know DTE can do better for Michigan, and we want them come back with a revised proposal in their 2019 Integrated Resource Plan.

A portfolio of renewable-based efficiency resources represents a much stronger long-term option for Michiganders. It’s not only cleaner; it’s also significantly less expensive. DTE is ready to charge ratepayers $989 million for this plant, but expert assessments show that it would cost $340 million less to implement energy efficiency, demand response, and renewable energy solutions such as wind and solar power than it would to build and run than the proposed gas plant.

Dozens of economics, public health, engineering, energy and natural resources experts testified against the gas plant. Modeling using DTE’s own analytic software showed that it wasn’t the best-priced option for DTE Energy customers. Beyond the direct consumer cost, studies also find that a portfolio of clean energy resources would create more jobs and greater tax revenue than the gas plant. Not only that, but DTE is making a major financial mistake by missing out on federal wind and solar incentives as it pushes its renewable plan further into the future.

Renewable energy technology has been getting better, and cheaper, much more rapidly than older forecasts expected. Not long ago, many predicted that a wave of natural gas plants would be necessary as a transitional bridge between the coal and nuclear past of the United States’ electric grid and its renewable energy future. However, across the country—in Virginia and Texas, Colorado and Utah, Nevada and Oregon and Washington—the electric industry is increasingly skipping or minimizing reliance on the middle step. Wind power is now the least costly generation resource, and the cost of solar power has dropped 70% in the last decade.

Utilities are finding that what is best for their customers’ needs and their own bottom lines is to move toward a combination of energy efficiency, demand response, wind power, solar power, and battery technology. Here in Michigan, the state’s second largest power provider, Consumers Energy, is also taking a future-oriented approach. In their recent resource plan submitted to the Commission, they’ve proposed not only to shutter several additional coal plants, but also to replace those resources with a combination of solar, wind, and efficiency measures. They ran over 300 simulations to generate this plan; DTE conducted closer to 50 before settling on their proposed gas plant.

In addition to imposing unnecessary costs to consumers, DTE’s plan imposes obvious unnecessary harm on our planet. While better than coal, natural gas is still a nonrenewable fossil fuel with detrimental environmental impacts including climate-warming emissions and health-harming pollution at every stage of the extraction and consumption process. DTE’s plan leaves it dependent on fossil fuels for a whopping 71 percent of its energy needs in 2030. As Sam Gomberg of the Union of Concerned Scientists wrote in February, “This level of over-reliance should raise big red flags with DTE customers, the MPSC, and all Michiganders who value a low risk electricity supply, clean environment, or stable climate.”

DTE’s plan looks backward. Their enormous new plant locks Michigan into too much natural gas, for too long. Neither a quick fix nor a brief stopgap, the plant will take four years to begin operations, and after that, consumers will be locked into the investment for the plant’s estimated lifespan of 50-60 years. Do we really want to continue paying for 1,110 MW worth of natural gas energy—most of which we import from other states—while other states and utilities will be paying nothing for fuel to generate their electricity? While they’re harnessing free, clean wind and sun?

The Ecology Center doesn’t think so. Saying no to the DTE gas plant is an obvious decision, economically and environmentally, so we’re doing everything in our power to continue advocating for the best interests of Michigan citizens and our planet’s future.

Published on July 23, 2018