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Michigan's New Year’s Resolution: Lose 21 Million Metric Tons of Carbon Pollution

Patrick Kenneally, Staff Attorney, Chicago

Michigan has a working mirror and should be a little self-conscious of the fact that its carbon pollution is heftier than most other states. Nearly two-thirds of states emit less carbon per unit of energy produced than Michigan. We have heard Michigan in the past confess the health dangers inherent in its high-carbon energy consumption. Michigan has even “joined the gym” so to speak by enacting moderate energy efficiency and renewable energy policies. However, joining the gym or eating Cobb salads is not enough. This year, Michigan must allow the executive voice of inspiration and perseverance to guide the psychic change necessary for a clean break with past temptations…starting with coal.

Getting into shape for the future is not really an option. Michigan must be swift enough to avoid being overrun by forces that, ready or not, will drastically change Michigan’s energy portfolio.

In 2015, the EPA will finalize the Clean Power Plan that will require Michigan to reduce its carbon dioxide pollution by 31%, or approximately 21 million metric tons, below 2012 levels by 2030. The Clean Power Plan comes just a year after another transformative EPA rule, the Mercury Air and Toxic Standards (MATS). MATS requires coal plants to either shut down or install upgrades to stanch the emission of multiple non-carbon, nasty pollutants. Also of note is the fact that this year, Michigan’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), which annually sets the percentage of electricity Michigan must acquire from renewable sources, is set to plateau at 10% unless increased by the Michigan Legislature.

First things first, stop stocking the cupboard with coal. Coal accounts for nearly 50% of Michigan’s energy production, but more than 80% of its carbon emissions. What’s more, coal is the ultimate empty calorie, providing very little economic nourishment. Michigan does not have a single operating coal mine and each year squanders over $1 billion importing coal at a premium, mostly from Wyoming. Not only does this giveaway deprive Michigan’s economy of money that otherwise would have been spent in-state, the costs associated with transporting the coal thousands of miles drives the price of electricity up.

Referring to the chart below, Michigan can cut ≈22 million metric tons of carbon pollution and exceed its carbon-loss goal by shutting down those coal plants that are either already scheduled or “ripe” for retirement. This, however, is not a starvation diet and the electricity lost, ≈20 GWh annually or ≈one-fifth of the total electricity needed to power Michigan, will need to be replaced.

In replacing this electricity, first, let’s start with the progress already made. Between 2012 and the end of 2015, thanks to Michigan’s RPS, electricity delivered from renewable sources will have increased from 4 GWh to over 10 GWh annually. More can be done. Governor Snyder, to his credit, commissioned a study finding that an RPS of 30% was technically and economically possible in Michigan. If Michigan, like nearly one-third of other states, ramped-up its RPS to just 20% by 2030, not only would the average monthly bill increase a manageable $1.70 per month, an addtional10 GWh of electricity could be provided. 16 GWh down, 4 to go.

Next, Michigan should simply accept its own advice. In 2013, the Michigan Public Service Commission analyzed the potential for energy efficiency measures to offset electricity demand. The analysis revealed that for one-third the cost of building new power plants and without sacrificing service, energy efficiency measures could reduce Michigan’s electricity an additional ≈15 GWh annually by as soon as 2024.

Michigan can sustainably crush its carbon weight loss goals just by using renewable energy and energy efficiency. And there is so much more that could be done like making coal plants more efficient and replacing coal with natural gas.

Of course, there are those in Michigan that like the view from the couch and are ready with an assortment of excuses regardless of the proposed solution when prodded to get moving.

Michigan already has processes in place to unravel the knot of regulatory and practical details that come with substituting electricity generation sources without sacrificing stability or reliability, such as rate cases, utility capacity self-assessments, MISO State of the Market and Resource Adequacy Studies, etcetera. Further, this is not some fad diet being proposed. 16 states already have an RPS ramping to 20% or more and the estimate of Michigan’s energy efficiency potential is based on Michigan’s own study. Remember too, Michigan has 15 years to get on the scale every day and make the necessary adjustments.

Below is a chart of all of Michigan’s coal-fired power plants and the amount of electricity (GWh) and carbon dioxide pollution each one produced in 2012. A coal plant is designated as “ripe for retirement” if the amount of installing necessary upgrades to comply with MATS is less than building a new natural gas plant or if the utility-owner of the plant has otherwise signaled its intent to close before 2030.

PLANT

GWh

2012 C02 Emissions, Metric Tons

Retiring/ Closing

Monroe

15.52

15,216,832

No

J H Campbell

7.75

7,889,669

No

Belle River

7.43

7,617,328

No

St. Clair

5.42

5,786,583

Yes

Dan E Karn

2.28

3,848,215

2016

Trenton Channel

3.54

3,566,491

2016

Presque Isle

1,90

2,247,658

2020

River Rouge

2.25

2,131,036

Yes

B C Cobb

1.56

1,549,824

2016

J R Whiting

1.34

1,464,308

2016

Eckert Station

.91

1,337,842

Yes

Erickson

.69

803,054

No

Endicott Generating

.23

361,321

Yes

Shiras

.29

352,316

No

J.B. Sims Generation Station

.24

301,071

No

WYANDOTTE DEPT MUNI POWER

.10

202,832

Yes

James De Young

.06

79,287

Yes

ESCANABA POWER PLANT

.02

25,867

Yes

WHITE PINE ELECTRIC POWER LLC

.01

22,235

2023


Photo Credit: Michigan Decarbonization Planning/shutterstock

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