Consumers Energy pledges 80% emissions cut by 2040

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Consumers Energy on Monday pledged to reduce carbon emissions 80 percent and stop using coal to generate electricity by 2040.

The announcement comes nine months after DTE Energy said last year it would cut carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050 by moving away from coal-fired plants and toward natural gas-fired facilities and renewable energy. Both the Detroit-based utility and Consumers Energy have been retiring coal-fired plants in recent years, with the Jackson-based utility retiring seven of its oldest coal-fired units in April 2016.

Consumers Energy utility added in Monday’s statement that more than 40 percent of the energy it plans to produce would come from renewable sources such as wind and solar by 2040.

It didn’t immediately indicate how much electricity would be produced by natural-gas-fired plants. But Consumers currently has five coal-fired units at two sites that comprise 23 percent of generating capacity and will cease operations by 2040, spokeswoman Katie Carey said in a Monday email.

“Our actions speak louder than words, and we have a track record of doing more than is required. Our actions to date have reduced our carbon intensity by 38 percent, reduced our water usage by 35 percent and avoided over one million cubic yards of landfill disposal,” said Patti Poppe, president and CEO of Consumers Energy & CMS Energy.

The announcement follows news that a group called Clean Energy, Healthy Michigan is launching a petition drive for a ballot measure this fall that would require Michigan electric providers to produce at least 30 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2030.

Clean energy and environmental advocates lost a similar fight in 2012, when DTE and Consumers Energy opposed and voters rejected 62 percent to 38 percent a proposed constitutional amendment for a 25 percent renewable requirement by 2025.

DTE Energy and Consumers Energy contributed a combined $24.1 million to a $25.3 million opposition campaign that warned against writing an “artificial government mandate” into the state constitution and argued it would increase electric bills.

On Monday, Consumers Energy also revealed a five-year environmental goals for Michigan water, waste and land that include:

■Saving one billion gallons of water

■Reducing waste to landfills by 35 percent

■Protecting, restoring or improving 5,000 acres of land in the state.

Various groups praised Consumers Energy for its decision to reduce emissions.

“Consumers Energy’s bold commitment to clean, renewable energy will help bolster Michigan’s growing clean energy industry, which is home to more than 92,000 jobs, and spark a new generation of entrepreneurs, small businesses and startups in the clean energy sector,” said Liesl Clark, president of Michigan Energy Innovation Business Council, a trade group supporting advanced energy initiatives.

Kindra Weid, the coalition coordinator for MI Air MI Health, applauded Consumers Energy’s proposed moves.

“Consumers Energy’s plan to stop burning coal and increase investments in clean, renewable energy will help reduce dangerous pollution in our air that causes asthma, lung and heart disease and other dangerous and deadly diseases,” Weid said. “Moving to clean renewable energy will literally save lives, and we look forward to working with Consumers Energy to ensure they reduce dangerous pollution and protect the health of Michigan families.”

After the Obama administration proposed a clean power plan, DTE and Consumers Energy executives warned in 2015 about a possible “energy shortfall issue” that could be caused by the closure of coal-fired plants.

President Donald Trump last year pulled out of the Paris Accord on proposed emissions reductions because it would hurt the American coal industry and the jobs it produces, among other reasons.

Jason Hayes, director of environmental policy for the free-market-oriented Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, noted that the United States reduced greenhouse gas emissions 9 percent from 2005 to 2014, according to an Environmental Protection Agency report, mostly by moving to the use of natural gas.

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