Consumers Energy has upped the ante on its own long-term clean energy plan, announcing in late February it expects to hit net-zero carbon emissions for its electricity portfolio by 2040 as part of its climate change efforts.
In its 20-year Clean Energy Plan approved by the Michigan Public Service Commission in June, the company agreed to reduce its carbon emissions 90 percent by 2040.
The Jackson-based utility will reportedly have two natural gas plants operating into the future, meaning offsets from those power sources may come from carbon sequestration, landfill methane capture or major tree planting.
“We don’t have all the answers yet, but our Clean Energy Plan is a great start,” Consumers President and CEO Patti Poppe said in a statement. “We have the know-how and the time to continue innovating and creating to solve this problem.”
The company anticipates a 56 percent renewable energy portfolio by 2040, with an additional 12 percent from energy storage and 10 percent from natural gas. Reducing demand through customer energy efficiency programs will account for the remaining portfolio, which will avoid the need to build three new gas plants, company officials have said.
Under sweeping statewide energy laws passed in 2016, regulated utilities will file integrated resource plans to track long-term energy goals. Consumers expects to formally file its next plan in 2021.
Net-zero carbon goals are increasingly common among utilities, energy companies and other corporations but clean energy advocates say more details are needed about how exactly the companies will get there. Consumers and other utilities also have pledged to reduce methane emissions from their natural gas supply chain, power plants and purchasing.
However, clean energy advocates say Consumers’ net-zero pledge is unique by not relying on carbon offsets while building new natural gas plants.
To environmental groups, Consumers has stood in contrast to the state’s other large investor-owned utility, Detroit-based DTE Energy.
DTE filed its first integrated resource plan after Consumers, and the MPSC on Feb. 20 recommended significant changes to it, including allowing for more third-party development of renewables and increasing energy efficiency spending.
The Michigan League of Conservation Voters and Sierra Club both called Consumers’ plan a “stark contrast” to DTE, which has plans to build a new $1 billion natural gas plant in Southeastern Michigan in the coming years.
“We applaud Consumers Energy for proactively addressing its carbon footprint and helping combat climate change by eliminating the use of coal and helping customers use energy more efficiently,” Nick Occhipinti, government affairs director for Michigan LCV, said in a statement. “Consumers Energy’s actions are a stark contrast to DTE Energy, which has continued to over rely on dirty, expensive fossil fuels that pollute our air, land and water. Michiganders are demanding cleaner, more affordable energy, and DTE should take a page out of Consumers’ book.”
The Sierra Club, however, is calling for a quicker shutdown of Consumers’ J.H. Campbell coal-fired plant in Port Sheldon in 2030. In its current plan, Consumers plans to close two units at the Campbell plant in 2031 and the third unit in 2040, previously telling MiBiz there are “logistical advantages” to keeping its three remaining coal units operating at a single site. Consumers will close the remaining units at its D.E. Karn plant near Bay City ahead of Campbell.
Meanwhile, Consumers plans to displace its retiring coal and nuclear portfolio mostly with renewables, including 6,000 megawatts of solar by 2040, and energy efficiency.
“Consumers Energy is taking another bold step in committing to net zero by 2040, setting a stark contrast to DTE’s 2050 goal,” Mike Berkowitz, representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, said in a statement. “However, we believe that West Michigan communities shouldn’t have to wait two more decades for clean air, clean water, and a stable climate. This net zero commitment must include a plan to retire their polluting J.H. Campbell coal plant by 2030, and facilitate a supported transition for impacted workers and community members.”