Advocates to Michigan regulators: What about renewable alternatives?

Renewable energy champions in Michigan are showing the rest of the country how to fight for solar and wind vs. gas plants: Lobby the regulators before they have a chance to approve the construction.

Vote Solar, the Union of Concerned Scientists and Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC) have filed two analyses with the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) that they say proves Detroit-based utility DTE Energy’s planned billion-dollar gas plant would cost ratepayers between $339 million to $1.2 billion more than comparable wind and solar plants.

The analyses come in the wake of a new resource-planning law passed last year that requires utilities to prove new plant construction (no matter what the fuel source) is the most economical for its ratepayers if it expects to pass costs on to the consumers through rate hikes.

MPSC will hold hearings on DTE’s gas plant in February, and the final decision is expected April 2.

“Using DTE’s own analysis tools, our analysis shows that this billion-dollar gas proposal is simply not the best way to provide reliable, affordable, and clean electricity for Michigan customers,” said Becky Stanfield, senior director of Western States at Vote Solar. “The bottom line is that solar, wind and efficiency can do the job for less, and DTE should not be locking Michigan energy customers into paying for this costly gas option.”

DTE initially asked the MPSC for permission to build the plant on July 31, suggesting an 1,100 MW natural gas plant would replace the equivalent number of megawatts of coal-fired plants that will be retiring between now and 2023.

As part of the public hearings, representatives from the solar industry, including Vote Solar and the Solar Energy Industries Association, will provide with testimony, which the MPSC will review as part of its deliberations prior to the scheduled April decision.

Solar advocates can look to California for inspiration for their fight, as the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has regularly rejected gas peaker plants in the past six months. Last week CPUC rejected a request by Calpine for more lucrative payments for three existing gas peaker plants and instead ordered the Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) to find renewable alternatives.