Philbin and Miller

Philbin and Miller

DTE is blowing smoke with promises of a clean energy future.

On March 29, DTE submitted its first Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), a long-term plan that utilities must prepare every five years and submit to the state. The day before, DTE trumpeted its plan in a news release devoted almost entirely to the company’s modest additional reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

But in its actual plan filed the next day with the Michigan Public Service Commission, DTE unveiled something quite different — proposing to build a second huge new greenhouse-gas polluting plant in addition to the one currently under construction in St. Clair County.

Why build huge new plants dependent on greenhouse-gas producing fracked gas while at the same time acknowledging the urgent need to curb the climate crisis? What was DTE trying to hide when it left its big new fossil-fuel plans out of its public news release?

As public concerns about the impact of climate change grow, DTE can’t claim to be a leader on climate while investing in gas pipelines and new gas-burning power plants.

Its new gas plants will have a lifespan of 50 to 70 years. Although they produce fewer greenhouse gases at the power plant than coal plants do, their emissions are significant. Plus, gas leaks out of wells and pipelines along the route to the power plant — releasing more potent and dangerous methane gas directly into the atmosphere every step of the way.

Climate scientists say we need to move to zero greenhouse-gas emissions from all sources by 2050. Electricity production needs to go to zero long before that, since it is easier to make quick progress on electricity production than transportation and other industries, and successful efforts in transportation and industry will depend on low-cost, carbon-free electricity.

Cars and trucks and most industries that directly use fossil fuels will have to go electric, and if that electricity is not carbon-free, all the other efforts will be undercut.

Other electric utilities are moving more quickly toward the carbon-free future we need. In the next 11 years, Consumers Energy is pressing ahead with solar power nearly 10 times faster than DTE, and has promised to build no new fossil-fuel plants. Xcel Energy, which operates in part of the Upper Peninsula as well as seven other states, announced in December plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2030, and 100 percent by 2050. By 2022, nearly 50 percent of Xcel’s electricity will come from renewables.

Consumers’ CEO Patti Poppe called big new gas plants like DTE’s “70-year assets” that involve “big bets” at risk of becoming “stranded assets” that have to close early at the expense of ratepayers. Why is DTE betting our money on a risky future?

Among DTE’s other business interests is DTE Midstream’s big ownership interest in fracked gas pipelines, including the expensive new Nexus pipeline project. DTE Energy’s gas plants may be there in part to feed the unregulated profits of DTE Midstream’s pipelines, skewing the public utility’s incentives and plans. DTE customers are at risk of being stuck with the result.

DTE customers need to speak out. The Michigan Public Service Commission must review and approve DTE’s Integrated Resource Plan. The overwhelming sentiment heard by MPSC commissioners at a public hearing on June 20 in Detroit was to send DTE’s plan back to the drawing board, to force one that truly recognizes the climate crisis, protects consumers and provides better service to underserved communities.

You can still weigh in on the matter until Oct. 2. Comments can be emailed to the MPSC at mpscedockets@michigan.gov, referencing Case No. U-20471.

About the authors: Gail Philbin is director of the Sierra Club. Fred Miller is a retired attorney and activist with the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign.