Consumers Energy sets 2050 net-zero natural gas emissions goal

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

Consumers Energy says it will achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions from the company's natural gas production and delivery system, including customers and suppliers, by 2050.

The commitment doesn't stop carbon emissions, but it means the Jackson-based utility and its parent, CMS Corp., will take measures to eliminate the impact of released compounds traced to burning natural gas by customers for heating, cooking and backup generators. The effort by the state's largest energy provider also will seek to alleviate the effects of greenhouse gas emissions by natural-gas suppliers who produce and transport the gas to Consumers Energy's system.

Garrick Rochow, CEO of Consumers Energy

“Natural gas is safe and affordable and now it can be even more clean,” CMS CEO Garrick Rochow said in a statement. “We’re making historic, industry-leading changes to protect our planet. This commitment is another step in leading the clean energy transformation for Michigan.”

The Environmental Protection Agency breaks down greenhouse gas neutrality into three scopes. The first focuses on the direct emissions of a company's assets. The second is on the indirect emissions of a company's operations like the purchase of electricity, steam, heat or cooling. Those areas have been the focus of Consumers Energy in serving its 6.8 million customers located mostly in the western and central parts of the Lower Peninsula. The third scope extends the goal to assets not owned by the company such as its suppliers and customers.

That's why the next step for Consumers Energy is to partner with customers to reduce their emissions by 20% by 2030. The 2050 goal also aligns the energy provider with the Paris Climate Accords and Michigan’s Healthy Climate Plan to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Consumers Energy's JH Campbell Generating Complex in West Olive. The Michigan utility says it will achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions from its natural gas operations by 2050.

The utility has a number of levers to help it to achieve its goal. Consumers Energy recently received regulatory approval to allow residential and commercial customers voluntarily to offset natural-gas carbon emissions by investing in Michigan forestry projects that can take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. It also has a number of efficiency programs to reduce energy waste and lower bills, which it says has saved customers about $4 billion since 2009 and prevented 19 million tons of carbon emissions.

Consumers Energy also has entered an agreement with Swisslane Farms in west Michigan to build a biodigester facility that would convert agricultural waste into renewable natural gas that is interchangeable with conventional natural gas. It reduces methane emissions, too. The utility also is looking at ways to use hydrogen to produce energy, capturing carbon emissions and storing them such as underground and using hybrid natural-gas and electric heat pump systems to heat homes and businesses.

Consumers Energy is in the midst of a 10-year plan to modernize its natural-gas system. The plan includes accelerated infrastructure replacement, leak detection and process changes to achieve net-zero methane emissions from its operation by 2030.

The company last year said it will eliminate the use of coal in producing electricity by 2025, replacing the generating stations with existing natural-gas plants. It plans to power 1 million electric vehicles in its service area by 2030 and be net-zero in carbon emissions from its electric operations by 2040. DTE Energy Co. has set a goal of 2050 to be carbon neutral for its electric business.

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble