Michigan utility CEOs in DC to talk coal-plant closures

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The CEOs of Michigan's two largest utilities met Wednesday with members of the Michigan congressional delegation to warn about the looming impact of the closure of 10 coal-fired power plants in 2016.

CMS Energy CEO John Russell and DTE Energy CEO Gerard Anderson met with Michigan members of Congress to talk about the "energy shortfall issue," confirmed Daniel Bishop, a spokesman for CMS Energy, the parent company of Consumers Energy, the state's second largest power company.

The pair also met with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, said Liz Purchia, an EPA spokeswoman. They were among several meetings she had on the Obama administration's clean power plan, declining to elaborate.

Both Bishop and DTE spokesman Scott Simons didn't comment on the meetings.

But Simons said the Detroit-based utility plans to close one unit at its Trenton power plant complex this year and one next year, which will eliminate about 210 megawatts of power. It has purchased a natural gas plant in Carson City, Mich., that will add 732 megawatts of capacity and has put out a request for proposal to build another plant to generate up to 350 megawatts.

The EPA plan — proposed last June but not yet finalized — could result in additional coal-fired power plant closures. The 10 power plants — including seven from CMS and two from DTE — are to close in April 2016, with enough capacity to serve about 1 million people, Bishop said.

They are resulting in part from the EPA regulations and because of a settlement announced in September, he said.

"No one is predicting blackouts" because of the closings, Bishop said, but it will reduce the electrical production cushion in Michigan to less than an ideal amount, Bishop said.

Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, attacked President Barack Obama's policy.

"President Obama's war on coal is very costly for America, and Michigan, a high coal usage state, is no exception," Miller said Wednesday. "Hopefully the EPA will recognize that energy providers need to have adequate time to transition from coal to natural gas. It also appears that the Michigan Legislature is moving in the right direction to address the energy issues in Michigan."

Consumers' seven plants include two at its Bay City-Essexville facility, two in Muskegon and three at its Luna Pier complex in Monroe County.

Consumers Energy will lose about 950 megawatts of energy production after the closures and is acquiring a natural gas plant in Jackson that will provide 540 megawatts.

"This is a critical issue facing Michigan," Bishop said, adding it has filed a plan with the state on its plans to make up the capacity.

Anderson said in a commentary published last month in the Hill newspaper that the plan "is unworkable and unnecessarily risky." He argued that "the speed and scope of the changes that the 2020 compliance targets would require are unprecedented and, thus, threaten the reliability of the system."

He said Michigan will need to retire "on the order of 60 percent of the state's coal-fired generation."

On Friday, Gov. Rick Snyder called for a dramatic reduction in the use of coal for Michigan's energy while setting a goal of meeting 30 to 40 percent of the state's energy needs through renewable sources and efficiency measures within a decade.

Michigan currently generates 55 percent of its power from coal-fired plants, but Snyder sees it dropping to about 34 percent.

Michigan and several other states are part of a case set for argument before the U.S. Supreme Court next week objecting to the Obama administration's limits on emissions of mercury and other hazardous pollutants from coal-fired power plants and whether the EPA has to consider regulation costs. The agency maintains that it doesn't have to weigh costs early in the rule-making process.