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Consumers Energy agrees to stop burning coal by 2025

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Consumers Energy plans to stop burning coal to generate power by 2025, according to a proposed settlement with Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office and other stakeholders.

Those stakeholders had intervened in Consumers proposed Integrated Resource Plan, a long-term energy generation blueprint that’s now before state regulators.

Environmental and ratepayer advocate groups largely hailed the proposal, noting that it puts Consumers on a faster track toward more renewable energy sources, primarily solar energy. The company says more than 60% of its energy will come renewable sources by 2040, with other gains in energy storage and customer efficiency programs bringing it to 90% of energy production from “clean energy sources” by that year.

In 2020, Consumers generated 11% of its energy from renewable sources, 19% from coal, and 31% from natural gas, according to company figures.

“This is a historic commitment to lead the clean energy transformation and create a brighter future for our state,” Garrick Rochow, President and CEO of Consumers Energy, said in a statement. “A diverse set of stakeholders came together to endorse a Clean Energy Plan that will provide reliable and affordable energy to customers for decades to come while protecting the environment.”

Charlotte Jameson of the Michigan Environmental Council calls it “a huge deal from a climate and ratepayer perspective.” The company had previously pledged to go coal-free by 2025, but had planned to buy four natural gas plants owned by its parent company, CMS Energy. But under the terms of the settlement, the company will only buy one, and instead accelerate the deployment of battery technology in the move toward solar. “We are shielded somewhat from this move toward replacing retiring coal generation with gas,” Jameson said.

“Eight thousand megawatts of solar energy by 2040 is a lot,” Jameson added. “I think we'll have to move a little bit more aggressively from a climate perspective, but that’s a lot of solar build-out.”

Another part of the settlement is “the provision of direct financial resources to ratepayers,” Nessel’s office said. Consumers agreed to donate $5 million this year to a fund that helps low-income utility ratepayers, with the potential for $33 million in total assistance in additional $2 million increments over a 14-year period.

“Not only is this settlement a win for our environment, it’s also a win for Michigan ratepayers who have struggled to stay current on their bills,” Nessel said in a press release. “This agreement was truly a collaborative effort from all involved parties and a symbol of what we can achieve when stakeholders work together to create positive change.”

The settlement still needs approval from the Michigan Public Service Commission. Michigan’s other major utility, DTE Energy, is expected to submit its long-term energy generation plan to the MPSC sometime later this year.

Editor's note: Consumers Energy is one of Michigan Radio's corporate sponsors.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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