A rendering of DTE's new Blue Water Energy Center Center in East China Township. (Photo: Clarence Tabb Jr., The Detroit News)
DTE Energy officials on Thursday promised a significant reduction in carbon emissions by phasing out coal-fired plants and adding a future mixture of natural gas and the renewable sources of wind and solar.
By 2022, DTE officials said the utility will shut down its River Rouge, Trenton and St. Clair coal-fired plants and then build a $1 billion natural-gas-fired plant in St. Clair County near its Belle River plant in East China Township, which would close in 2032.
Gerry Anderson, chief executive of DTE Energy, and three other top officials announced the plan in a briefing for reporters, saying it would reduce carbon emissions 32 percent by 2023, a 50 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2040 — all by shuttering coal plants.
The changes are being made faster than initially planned, Anderson said, and the moves won't result in rate hikes for DTE's customers.
"And you say, well what's driving that? What's driving it really is the evolution and the economics of energy," Anderson said. "Our coal plants are aging. It makes sense for us to move on. Wind and solar continue to improve in their economics, as does natural gas."
The Detroit-based company will more than double renewables by 2024 with an investment of nearly $2 billion, he said. And DTE officials said it provides annual energy savings of 1.75 percent, up from a projected 1.5 percent improvement.
The $1 billion Blue Water power plant, which is expected to be finished by 2022, is allowing the coal-fired plants to shut down sooner, Anderson said.
"And when you look at the volume that this plant will produce, it is just a sharp and large reduction in carbon," he said. "Its carbon emissions will actually exceed the contribution of all the renewable energy that's been built in the state of Michigan."
While lauding DTE's efforts, environmental groups want to see the power giant go further.
“While DTE’s plan to reduce its massive carbon footprint shows improvement, it still involves building big, expensive natural gas plants over more cost-effective renewable energy and efficiency,” said Nick Occhipinti, Michigan League of Conservation Voters' director of government affairs.
“Given the company’s over-reliance on dirty sources of energy, DTE should be sprinting, not slow-walking toward clean, renewable sources to reduce dangerous pollution, lower energy costs and protect the health of Michigan communities.”
DTE shouldn't wait for bringing on renewables such as solar, said Becky Stanfield, senior director for Midwest states of Vote Solar that advocates for more solar sources.
"Solar power is ready today to replace coal, and waiting another five to 10 years to invest in solar will only delay the job creation and cost savings that Michigan needs now," she said. "Utilities across the country and here in Michigan are moving more quickly than DTE to capture the benefits of solar, and we hope the Michigan regulators will carefully scrutinize DTE's plan to ensure that it's the most prudent path for DTE's customers."
Anderson said wind first and then solar will help DTE in the future and that the utility is talking with environmental groups.
"I think environmental groups will always move a bit beyond where an energy company is going to be," he said. "I don't expect that we'll ever put out a plan that all environmental groups will say everything's fine. But I don't think that anybody can say that this isn't fundamental and making big moves in a time frame that not all that long ago people thought was unlikely."