Michigan Regulators Should Take Another Look At its Decision on DTE’s Gas Plant Boondoggle

Today, Vote Solar joined with seven other organizations to ask the Michigan Public Service Commission to reconsider its decision to green-light a massive new gas plant in Michigan. We strongly believe the evidence shows that DTE Energy has failed to demonstrate that its proposal is the best resource for its customers. 

A drumbeat of recent utility decisions choosing wind and solar power over gas reinforces the point we made in this important docket: A clean energy future is now also the lowest cost way to replace old coal plants, and can do so without sacrificing grid reliability.   

The nation and the world are in the midst of a remarkable transition.  Not that long ago, it was thought that a fleet of gas plants would be needed as a “bridge” between the old electric system which relied entirely on large central coal and nuclear plants, and a new system reliant on clean renewable energy coupled with energy efficiency and battery technology.  But the cost of those modern clean energy technologies has fallen so quickly that utilities from Colorado, Nevada, Utah, Washington, Oregon and even Michigan are proposing to skip the gas and get to work building an efficient, renewable-powered system. In this context, building a gas plant is a little like building a shopping mall in the age of Amazon.

Because wind and solar power require no expenditures for fuel, they are a safe bet against fluctuating and unpredictable gas and fossil fuel prices over time. And those lower costs don’t account for the health benefits of cleaner air in frontline communities that surround fossil fuel plants and that are traditionally most harmed by emissions.

As DTE Energy stands by its backward-looking proposal, utilities in Virginia, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Oregon, Texas and Washington are skipping gas and choosing renewable energy instead.

  • Despite DTE claims that it cannot rely on renewables to power the grid, Consumers Energy, Michigan’s second largest utility, just announced a plan to retire the rest of its coal fleet and build 5000 MW of solar power, which it will combine with energy efficiency, demand response, wind power and batteries.   
  • In May, Pacificorp, owned by Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway and serving customers in six western states, filed a plan with regulators to close half of its coal fleet and replace it with solar, wind, energy efficiency and demand response.
  • Similarly, earlier this month Berkshire’s NV Energy asked state regulators for approval of a plan to retire its last coal plants and build more than 1 GW of solar accompanied by 100 MW of new battery storage capacity.
  • Earlier this month, Xcel Energy in Colorado announced plans to close 660 MW of coal plant capacity ahead of schedule and build solar, wind and battery projects to replace those plants. Why? New clean energy costs less than the cost of keeping old coal plants running. Xcel estimates that renewables will save customers more than $200 million, largely because there are no fuel costs, and the costs of constructing renewable energy facilities have plummeted. Moreover, they will invest $1.2 billion in eight counties, spurring economic development opportunities across the state.
  • Texas-based Vistra Energy is replacing coal with renewables as well.Vistra’s CEO spoke recently to CNBC’s Jim Cramer about the emergence of low-cost batteries, which he described as a game changer. In late May, Reuters reported that Vistra, along with Dominion Energy in Virginia, were shifting their focus from gas to renewables to replace coal. Like DTE, Dominion Energy invested heavily in natural gas pipeline infrastructure on the assumption that gas plants would continue to proliferate. However, Dominion itself has decided not to build new baseload gas plants, citing the availability of low-cost solar.

DTE’s gas plant would not be operational until 2021, but with each passing month, the economics of gas versus renewable energy changes, and by 2021, it is nearly certain that the power from this plant will be even more out of line with the market price of electricity driving by low-cost renewables. 

Michigan’s Public Service Commission must put the public’s needs above the utilities it regulates. It can start by reversing its recent decision to allow DTE to saddle customers with decades of gas plant expenses at a time when renewables are lower cost, reliable, clean and will put more people to work in the energy industry across the state. Don’t let DTE Energy keep Michigan stuck in the past.  


Becky serves as Vote Solar’s Senior Director for the Western States, managing the organization’s campaigns from the Midwest to the West Coast. Based in Chicago, she has been pushing for clean energy reforms at the state and federal levels for twenty-three years.

Becky came to Vote Solar after working as Vice President for Policy and Energy Markets at SolarCity. Previously, she directed NRDC’s Midwest energy program, and worked as a clean energy advocate for Environment America in Illinois, Washington, DC and New Jersey.

When not working on energy policy, Becky can be found travelling with her husband and daughter, hitting the urban trails of Chicago with their dog Dewey, or slowly restoring their 120-year old classing Chicago two-flat.

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Ed Smeloff leads Vote Solar's regulatory team working to transform the electric power system to be cleaner, smarter and more durable by integrating solar power and other clean energy technologies at all scales from rooftop to utility-scale power plant. Vote Solar is involved in regulatory activities in 12 states. Before joining Vote Solar he worked for SunPower Corp. as its director of utility and power plant sales. There he was responsible for the development of more than a gigawatt of solar power plants now in operation across the United States.

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