Michigan utility will phase out coal by 2040, CEO says

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Consumers Energy has announced it will eliminate coal from its electricity generation portfolio by 2040, a mere month after being sued by Cypress Creek Renewables for trying to evade the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) of 1978, which puts an emphasis on adding renewable energy and replacing fossil fuels.

The utility has also pledged to reduce its carbon emissions by 80% on the same timeline.

How will the utility reach these goals? The specifics on the plan are unclear, but the company promised to release specifics later this year when it files its integrated resource plan with the Michigan Public Service Commission.

In general, however, the utility did say it plans to boost the amount of renewable energy it has in its portfolio. Right now, the renewable energy focus has been primarily on wind resources, but it did specifically cite solar as one of the clean-energy resources it planned to add more of over the next 20 years.

“Our actions speak louder than words and we have a track record of doing more than is required,” said Patti Poppe, President and CEO of Consumers Energy & CMS Energy. ” Our actions to date have reduced our carbon intensity by 38%, reduced our water usage by 35% and avoided over one million cubic yards of landfill disposal.”

“We are still not satisfied,” Poppe said. “The goals announced today represent our further commitment to leave Michigan far better than we found it, because we live here, too.”

Last year, the company announced its Large Customer Renewable Energy Tariff, which allows large companies who elect to generate 100% of their electricity from renewable sources to reduce their overall bills. It also started moving away from coal in 2016, when it closed seven of its 12 coal-powered generating plants.

It appears the utility may be changing its mind about renewable energy generation opportunities like solar from their position as recently as a month ago.

As pv magazine reported late last month, Consumers Energy filed a docket with the Michigan Public Service Commission, saying it won’t need to purchase power PURPA-eligible facilities over the next 10 years. Its plans to eliminate all its coal generation by 2040, could, however, undermine that claim.

The company could also be feeling some pressure from its competition, as DTE Energy – a Detroit-based utility – announced last May that it plans to add 6 GW of renewable energy to its portfolio by 2050 as part of an effort to reduce its carbon emissions by more than 80%.