Settlement: DTE to cut pollution at 5 regional power plants

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

DTE Energy is slated to reduce pollution at five coal-fired power plants in southeast Michigan as part of a settlement that resolves a decade-old lawsuit, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday.

The proposed deal also requires the utility company to pay a $1.8 million civil penalty and pursue a $5.5 million mitigation project to improve regional air quality by replacing old school buses or municipal transit buses in the area with new, more energy-efficient ones, the EPA said in a statement.

The DTE Energy Trenton Channel Power Plant

“This settlement will improve air quality in southeast Michigan to help protect people’s health and the environment,” said Kurt Thiede, EPA Region 5 administrator. “The company agreed to carry out a bus replacement project under the settlement that will go even further to make the air cleaner in the area.”

In a statement Thursday, DTE Energy said the company "agreed to resolve this matter at this time and it is consistent with the company’s path to drastically reduce emissions by 80 percent and retire its coal operations by 2040."

The proposed settlement is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval, the EPA said.

The government sued DTE in 2010 and alleged the company violated the New Source Review requirements of the Clean Air Act.

The EPA claimed a multi-million-dollar overhaul was made at its Monroe plant without installing the best available technology to minimize emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, The Detroit News reported.

DTE Electric customers won't see their utility rates go up this year or next.

In its statement Thursday, DTE said: "The dispute resolved in the settlement was over potential emissions projection methodology that DTE was using as part of maintenance procedures when installing new pollution controls. No increased emissions occurred at the Monroe Plant since the project 9 years ago. In fact, emissions reduced drastically."

Under the settlement with the EPA, DTE is slated to install pollution controls, or convert to natural gas, all coal-fired units at its Belle River, River Rouge, St. Clair and Trenton Channel generating stations, officials said Thursday. The company must also meet enforceable emission limits for sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide at its Monroe station.  

"Upon completion of all requirements under this settlement, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions at all of DTE’s facilities in southeast Michigan will be reduced by an estimated 138,000 total tons per year when compared to the year 2010," the EPA said.

"... Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, two key pollutants emitted from coal-fired power plants, can harm human health and are significant contributors to acid rain, smog and haze. These pollutants are converted in the air into fine particles that can cause severe respiratory and cardiovascular impacts and premature death. Reducing these harmful air pollutants will benefit communities in southeast Michigan and beyond."

DTE on Thursday said since starting discussions with federal officials, the company has "invested more than $2 billion in emission control technology and another $2 billion in renewable energy while retiring more than 1100 (megawatts) of coal fired generation. In addition, DTE’s accelerated coal plant retirements for Trenton, River Rouge and St. Clair remain on track."

Last year, DTE Energy, which serves more than 3 million customers in Michigan, announced a goal to "achieve net zero carbon emissions" in its electric business by 2050. The plan had already been to cut carbon emissions in half by 2030 and by 80% by 2040.