Ceremony Friday to mark shutdown of DTE's River Rouge plant

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News
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River Rouge — River Rouge Mayor Michael Bowdler and DTE executives will officially mark the closing of the company's River Rouge Power Plant with a ceremony there Friday.

The plant stopped generating power as of Memorial Day evening. Opened in 1956 when Detroit's population was just past its high mark of 1.85 million and the auto factories were churning, it's one of five historically coal-fired facilities DTE expects to close by the end of 2022 as it transitions to cleaner forms of energy.

Bowdler is scheduled to be joined by CEO Jerry Norcia, electric president Trevor Lauer and senior vice president of fossil generation Ben Felton Sr. at a 1 p.m. event called the River Rouge Virtual Power Down.

The DTE River Rouge Power plant was shutdown Memorial Day. The city and DTE will host a ceremony Friday to mark the closing of the plant, which has operated since 1956.

"It's a sad day," said Bowdler, who grew up in public housing across the street from the plant, "but it served its purpose."

DTE has announced long-term goals of producing more than three-quarters of its power from renewable energy and efficient natural gas-fired power plants. It has targeted emissions cuts of 50% by 2030 and 80% by 2040.

The River Rouge plant, south of Zug Island along the Detroit River, converted to recycled gas in June 2020, Felton said, "but it really has reached the end of its lifespan."

At its peak, according to DTE, the plant had 292 employees and a capacity of 840 megawatts from three generating units. One unit was operating at the end, staffed by 35 employees who have been offered jobs elsewhere in the company.

The priority now, Felton said, “is making sure the site is safe. We want to make sure we leave the site as good or better than we found it.”

The defunct plant shares space on a 100-acre plot with a substation that will remain in use. The plant will eventually be demolished, Felton said, with plans for the property “still up for discussion.”

Bowdler said the city budget could take as much as a $1 million hit, starting in July 2022. But River Rouge has survived other blows, he said, and “they had a good run of 65 years. In the 20 communities Downriver, a lot of people either worked in that plant, were contractors in that plant or were part of the supply chain for that plant.”

DTE was generous with civic projects, he said, and its employees were enthusiastic volunteers.

The River Rouge plant follows Marysville, Harbor Beach and Conner Creek into retirement, with St. Clair and Trenton set for shutdown next year.

DTE has announced that it's investing $1 billion in a natural gas plant in St. Clair County called the Blue Water Energy Center.

nrubin@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @nealrubin_dn

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