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MPSC approves controversial DTE power plant plan for St. Clair County

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steve carmody
/
Michigan Radio

DTE Energy now has the green light to build a billion dollar natural gas power plant in St. Clair County.   But while state regulators approved of the plan, they also made it clear they didn’t like the way the utility behaved during the review process.

The Michigan Public Service Commission today unanimously approved an order agreeing to the need for the plant (to replace three retiring coal-fired power plants), the fuel (natural gas), and how to pay for the plant (ratepayers).

MSPC chair Sally Talberg calls the proposal “unique.”

“From an operational standpoint, reliability, financial and even environmental,” says Talberg. “This plant can really position Michigan to transition to a cleaner energy future.”

DTE officials say they reviewed dozens of options to replace the power loss by the pending shutdowns of three coal plants.

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“It is really important to have a baseload facility that can operate with the renewables that we continue to add into the energy mix,” says DTE president Trevor Lauer

DTE President Trevor Lauer says, when it comes online in 2022, the new power plant will complement the utility’s mix of energy sources.

“It is really important to have a baseload facility that can operate with the renewables that we continue to add into the energy mix,” says Lauer.

Environmental and alternative energy groups criticized the MPSC decision.

“Given the availability of lower-cost clean energy alternatives, this decision exposes Michigan ratepayers to unnecessarily high rates, a litany of risks associated with fossil fuel dependence and significant levels of pollution and carbon emissions,” says Sam Gomberg, senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Midwest office.

While DTE’s proposal won the approval of the MPSC, the utility’s behavior during the review process clearly did not.

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“Even though this can be adversarial at times with attorneys representing their clients,” says MPSC chair Sally Talberg, “It’s really important to have decorum."

During today’s commission hearing, commissioners complained about the utility’s incivility in its filings in response to critics and a lack of transparency. 

“Even though this can be adversarial at times with attorneys representing their clients,” says MPSC chair Sally Talberg. “It’s really important to have decorum and an exchange of information to make an informed decision by the commission.”

DTE’s Trevor Lauer admits the process grew “heated” at times.

“We will go back and review what the commissioners are referencing,” Lauer told reporters after the commission meeting, “It will certainly give me the opportunity to talk to the team about how we put our best feet forward.”

There are still a few regulatory hurdles for DTE to clear before construction of the new power plant can begin.

Nevertheless, DTE’s Trevor Lauer expects they’ll receive state environmental and local construction permits by the end of the year. 

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