Bye, Coal-icia! Consumers Energy Advances Decarbonization Goals

Jackson, Michigan-based Consumers Energy (NYSE: CMS) made a groundbreaking announcement in a press conference this morning that it is ditching coal power, more than a decade ahead of schedule. The announcement from the investor-owned utility is a major move as the smaller of Michigan’s two major utilities differentiates itself as a leader in decarbonization compared to its coal-addicted big brother of DTE Energy.

Consumers’ Campbell coal plant, 17000 Croswell St, West Olive, MI 49460. The Karn plant in Essexville, which features a combination of coal-fired turbines as well as oil and gas-fired turbines, is also slated for closure.

On the call, CEO Garrick Rochow emphasized that natural gas as a replacement to goal comes in the form of far more efficient generating infrastructure that is more readily able to respond to major swings in demand from extreme weather events. The ability to more quickly respond to rapid swings in temperature and, accordingly, energy demand, is increasingly vital for utilities. “That was emphasized by the events of Texas– and we’re used to those extremes here in Michigan,” Rochow said, but emphasized that modernized generating infrastructure substantially increases the utility’s responsiveness to major demand events.

Consumers Energy: Bests DTE And Even Saves Endangered Turtles

The Ludington Pumped Storage Plant on Lake Michigan. Note the relatively small footprint of the hydroelectric setup here compared to the coal plant above. In spite of the larger hydrological footprint of having a giant lake, the pumped storage facility includes only a tiny amount of land occupied for the actual plant itself, versus the coal plant, which includes numerous rail sidings, storage areas, and other facilities.

The press conference spent some time talking about the carbon savings equivalents (equivalent to getting 12.3 million cars off the road, or, something that’s never going to happen in Michigan), and also focused on the idea of a just transition. More than 500 workers at the coal plants will eventually be displaced by this move, and so Consumers says they are committed to ensuring that these workers are adequately relocated within the company or otherwise accommodated. This is a crucial point that needs to be addressed, especially in thinking about disinvested communities that have struggled with the deterioration of coal demand in recent decades.

Consumers plans to add several thousand megawatts of photovoltaics to the grid over future integrated resource planning periods to compensate for the loss of coal, and to eventually supplant natural gas.

Following the announcement by Consumers Energy that the company would retire its coal power plants ahead of schedule, CMS stock was flat, down -0.53% at 12:15pm EST. Read the full press release here. This is a developing story.

Nat M. Zorach

Nat M. Zorach, AICP, MBA, is a city planner and energy professional based in Detroit, where he writes about infrastructure, sustainability, tech, and more. A native of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, he attended Grinnell College in Iowa, the Kogod School of Business at American University, the POCACITO transatlantic program, the SISE program at the University of Illinois Chicago, and he is also a StartingBloc Social Innovation Fellow. He enjoys long walks through historic, disinvested Rust Belt neighborhoods at sunset. (Nat's views and opinions are his own and do not represent those of his employer).

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