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Doubling down on clean energy, DTE Energy to close 2 Michigan plants ahead of schedule

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Posted at 4:00 PM, Mar 28, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-28 18:23:44-04

(WXYZ) — DTE Energy announced major plans to overhaul their plant closure schedule, and to continue to reduce the company’s carbon footprint. At a time that the Trump administration is pushing for more coal production, the companies CEO said they’re moving forward with, or without, legislation.

“No one is building a coal plant to replace a coal plant,” said DTE CEO Gerry Anderson to a roundtable of reporters.

The news comes two days after 7 Action News broke the story that the company planned to move up the shutdown of plants in East China Township and Trenton, Michigan.

“What’s driving that,” asked Anderson, “Really the evolution and economics of the industry — our coal power plants are aging. It’s time to move one.”

Anderson admitted that environmental groups will likely want something done faster, but noted that the announcement speeds up two plant closures by two years, and calls for the company to reduce their carbon footprint by 80-percent a full decade ahead of a schedule laid out years ago. They plan to cut emissions by 50-percent by 2030, also much quicker than originally expected.

WHY IT MATTERS

Climate scientists have said that carbon emissions must be cut to stop global warming — global warming is caused by burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas. Burning fossil fuels emits carbon dioxide, methane and other gasses that are trapped in the atmosphere and increase temperatures which can’t be explained by natural factors.

IRP Graphics Carbon by WXYZ-TV Channel 7 Detroit on Scribd

The concern led to the landmark 2016 Paris Agreement — the goal was to reduce global carbon emissions and keep the entire world from a path that would see the temperature rise 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. Originally the United States signed on, but President Donald Trump has stated the U.S. will withdraw. DTE made it clear they’re aiming to lower emissions anyways.

“Can it be done if nobody thinks this is an issue? No. It seriously needs people like me, and leaders, to care about this issue,” said Anderson. “That’s it. I think the energy industry is heading there with or without regulation.”

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT

DTE had already planned to wind down it’s coal power plants, but the new timeline speeds everything up. As reported by 7 Action News on Wednesday, plants in both Trenton and East China Township will now shutdown a full year ahead of schedule.

That means the St. Clair power plant, Trenton Channel power plant and River Rouge power plant will all shutdown in 2022. The three plants coming offline is the equivalent of taking 1.6 million passenger cars off the road for an entire year — and amount that equals roughly half of Michigan’s drivers.

At the same time DTE Energy is investing roughly $1 billion into a natural gas power plant — while it does cause emissions, it does so at a lower rate than coal. Anderson estimated that in the future their portfolio would rely on 50-percent renewables, 30-percent natural gas and 20-percent nuclear. He noted that they do not have plans to build more nuclear-powered plants.

The need for gas comes because while costs are going down for renewable energy, they also can ebb and flow quickly. A natural gas power plant — like what’s being built in St. Clair County right now — can be powered on in roughly 10 minutes. Coal plants, according to a former DTE worker, can take up to 24 hours.

WILL IT COST ME MORE MONEY?

In a word: No — not if Anderson is to be taken at his word.

“I don’t think the average homeowner is going to get a change in price in their energy,” said Anderson. “It’s one our jobs as we evolve through a fundamental transformation is to make it something homeowners don’t feel, or don’t have to worry about it.”

Right now, wind turbines and solar panels are dropping in cost. Anderson said that at this moment in time wind continues to be a bigger part of their current strategy, but as solar costs continue to drop they’ll work to add more solar to their renewable portfolio.

A little more than two weeks ago DTE announced the commissioning of their largest wind park to date — it houses 65 turbines between Gratiot and Isabella counties. There is concern that there is less and less land near homeowners willing to see them in their neighborhood, but there is a belief within DTE that solar panels are more palatable.

To put the companies confidence in renewable energy into perspective, they’re investing roughly $1 billion into a natural gas plant that will help decommission the coal plants in southeast Michigan while they’re investing roughly $2 billion in solar/wind.