Clean Energy Groups Appeal Approval of DTE Energy’s Proposed $1 Billion Gas Plant

A coalition of clean energy organizations have asked the Michigan Court of Appeals to reverse the decision of the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) to approve a massive new natural gas power plant to be built by DTE Energy. The MPSC decision would allow DTE Energy to charge its customers to build the $1 billion gas plant, for ongoing fuel, and for operations and maintenances of the plant for decades to come. The organizations, which include the Environmental Law and Policy Center, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Ecology Center, the Solar Energy Industries Association, and Vote Solar, contend that DTE failed to demonstrate that its plant was the most “prudent” means of supplying power to its customers, as required by Michigan’s utility planning law.

“We are at a turning point in the electric industry, and our concern is that DTE is rushing the plant through without considering whether it really is needed, in light of newer, cleaner, and less costly alternatives,” said Margrethe Kearney, Senior Attorney at the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “It is critical that the MPSC be required to fully and faithfully implement the law, to ensure that Michigan customers are not on the hook to pay for last-Century technology, when a clean, modern grid is more affordable now.”

“The law is there to protect consumers by ensuring that utilities make good investment decisions based on sound analytics to achieve an affordable, reliable and clean electric grid,” said Sam Gomberg, Senior Energy Analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists. “DTE failed to do the analysis necessary to justify its proposed natural gas plant, and the Commission should have sent them back to the drawing board.”

In July of 2017, DTE asked the MPSC to grant a “Certificate of Necessity” to build an 1,100 MW natural gas power plant to replace older coal-fired plants that are slated for retirement. More than a dozen organizations intervened to oppose the plant, presenting expert testimony showing that DTE had failed to consider a range of less costly alternatives. Multiple scenarios showed that a portfolio of resources such as wind, solar, energy efficiency, demand response and battery storage could eliminate, delay or reduce the size of the plant.

DTE did not provide sufficient analysis for the MPSC to be able to compare its plant to cleaner, reliable and more affordable options that would save customers money. MPSC responded by decrying the lack of clear analysis but approving the plant anyway while urging DTE to do a better job in its next plan. It should have required DTE to start over.

In states like Illinois and Ohio, owners of fossil power plants are finding that the cost to fuel and operate the plants is too expensive and are seeking bailouts from utility customers to recover these “stranded costs.” Meanwhile, the cost of solar power has declined by 70 percent in just the past decade, while wind power is now the least costly generation resource. Increasingly, the electric industry is turning toward low-cost wind and solar power to meet future electricity demand instead of risking another generation of uneconomic investment in fossil fuels.

This article was originally published by Vote Solar here and was republished with permission.

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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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