Letter: Utility says energy planning can’t wait
Re: State Sen. Mike Shirkey’s Feb 15 op-ed in The Detroit News, “New EPA power plant rules may fail legal test”: The urgent need for a Michigan-first energy plan is even more important following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling to pause the Clean Power Plan.
Electricity is the most volatile commodity in the world. Managing that commodity so Michigan job providers and families have predictable, stable electric prices requires foresight and planning. Utilities don’t have the luxury of waiting on the federal courts for absolute certainty.
The future is now, and as The Detroit News previously noted in an editorial, due to old age and existing environmental rules — not the future Clean Power Plan — 25 coal-generating units are shutting down in Michigan by 2020.
Unfortunately, some in Lansing would put customers at risk by “slow walking” action on a Michigan-first plan.
The Feb. 15 column on this topic proposed just that and included the following errors:
■ It claimed utilities shutting down 60-year-old coal units are just “going along” with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s existing mercury rule. In fact, Consumers Energy, which is shutting down seven older coal units by April 15, 2016, has a legally binding agreement to do so with the U.S. Department of Justice and EPA. Closing these units is more cost effective than investing in new environmental controls and continuing to operate them, particularly with our purchase of a natural gas plant at one-quarter the cost of a new plant.
■ It claimed that shutting down aging coal plants “would raise electric bills.” In fact, Consumers Energy will reduce electric bills by $38 million in mid-April to reflect the removal of operating costs for these seven units.
■ It claimed that utilities will be “laying people off” following the coal unit shutdowns. Again, not true. Employees who work at our seven older coal units are being reassigned within our statewide workforce. Some employees are electing retirement or to pursue other opportunities.
The most important reasons for updating Michigan’s energy law now are fairness and reliability. Fairness dictates that policymakers eliminate the current subsidy — $1 billion-plus — paid by 99.98 percent of customers for electric grid reliability that is not paid by 0.02 percent of customers. All customers should be required to pay their fair share of generating capacity to keep electric prices competitive and affordable.
Secondly, electric reliability is essential. Reliability concerns continue to nag at Michigan’s Lower Peninsula and shouldn’t be used as a political football. Delay puts our state’s energy future in the hands of the federal government and Michigan homeowners and businesses at risk. Acting now to ensure that Michigan workers build the next generation of clean power plants is smart and prudent public policy.