Government, Lakeshore, and Sustainability

Consumers Energy pushes back closing of B.C. Cobb plant to 2016

September 27, 2013
| By Pete Daly |
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With the economy improving and demand for electricity increasing, Consumers Energy has decided to delay its planned closing of the coal-fired B.C. Cobb generating plant in Muskegon, and six other small coal plants, until the first quarter of 2016.

Roger Morgenstern, senior public information director for Consumers Energy in West Michigan, said the utility’s management advised regulators and its employees of their decision a couple of months ago. The company’s previous plan, announced in late 2011, would tentatively have closed the seven small coal-fired plants in early 2015.

“The economy is coming back a little bit,” and Consumers’ latest analysis shows electricity demand going up “a little bit,” said Morgenstern, although he added, “We’re very mindful of our customers paying for this electricity, and we’re making sure they get the biggest bang for their buck.”

He was referring to environmental regulations and anti-pollution requirements that, over the long term, continue to add cost to the operation of the company’s smaller coal-fired power plants.

In late 2011, Consumers announced it would continue making substantial investments in the major existing coal plants, but anticipated suspension of the smaller coal units in 2015. The company said it was responding to “existing and pending state and federal environmental regulations and ongoing market conditions.”

Morgenstern said last week Consumers is now spending more than $1 billion over five years on anti-pollution improvements at the larger coal-fired plants, which includes J.H. Campbell in West Olive.

The output of the Cobb plant is approximately 350 megawatts. Altogether, Cobb and the six other small plants spread across Michigan can produce a little more than 900 megawatts. The Campbell plant’s Unit 3 alone, however, can put out more than 800 megawatts.

Morgenstern said B.C. Cobb employs about 110 people, and Consumers is “working very hard” to find other jobs for the employees there who do not plan to retire.

Consumers is also planning a $750 million, 700 megawatt natural gas power plant in Thetford Township in Genesee County. The state approved air permits for the proposed plant in July, which Consumers expects will be in operation in 2017.

The Thetford plant will produce about 50 percent less carbon emissions than the seven older coal plants it will replace, according to Consumers. The switch to natural gas will help the utility reach its greenhouse gas reduction target of 20 percent by 2025.

At 700 megawatts, the Thetford plant would be able to serve a community of about 445,000.

Morgenstern said the Environmental Protection Agency’s announcement Sept. 20 proposing tougher limits on carbon emissions from new power plants does not impact the small coal plants Consumers has in operation. However, he said “the regulations continue to evolve and we will be part of the discussion in Washington, with our peer utilities, so that we make sure our customers get the most for their investment.”

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