Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 19, 2013

Editorial: Wolverine finally abandons plans for coal-fired plant

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — In a classic case of double-speak, Wolverine Power Cooperative’s “Clean Energy Venture” in Rogers City may have been about energy but not “clean” energy. And it was more “adventure” than “venture.”

Wolverine in 2006 announced plans to build a coal-burning plant in an old quarry three miles from Rogers City. Given the tide of opposition in Michigan and across the Midwest to coal-burning power plants, it was a colossal miscalculation — or overwhelming hubris. It was one of three coal-burning projects announced around the same time, and the negative reaction they inspired was predictable.

Much of that opposition came from environmental and health groups that decried any thought of more coal plants at a time when the nation was struggling to deal with the ozone and carbon pollution from existing plants. Energy experts criticized the new plants as inefficient, unnecessary and costly.

Wolverine supplies electric power to seven member-owned electric cooperatives in Michigan, including Cherryland Electric and Great Lakes Energy, which operates in Antrim County and parts of Kalkaska and Grand Traverse counties.

Wolverine spent more than $20 million to promote the plan. Spokeswoman Nancy Tanner said permit deadlines and investments in other energy sources led to the decision. “The Clean Energy Venture was an option for us but it was not at the forefront of what we worked on,” she said. What other project ate up $20 million over seven years?

Ratepayers should be happy the plant has been abandoned. But they are certainly free to grouse at the $20 million down the tubes — at least some of which no doubt came from them.

What may anger them even more is that back in 2010, the Michigan Public Service Commission reported that construction of the 600-megawatt plant would lead to a monthly utility bill increase of nearly $77 for the “average customer.”

Why Wolverine continued forward for three more years after that report made no sense then and even less now that the company finally pulled the plug.

Michigan needs affordable, non-polluting sources of reliable electricity if it is to recover from the lingering recession. Aging Midwest coal-burning plants are being retired and we need new sources of energy to replace them. But coal is dirty and causes major pollution problems and can’t be the answer.

Wolverine was simply bowing to the inevitable — and should have done so a few millions ago.