Sustainability

Consumers Energy CEO hypes green community

Patti Poppe travels to Grand Rapids to tout approved integrated resource plan.

August 30, 2019
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Consumers Energy CEO Patti Poppe made a stop in Grand Rapids in a statewide tour to tout the Michigan Public Service Commission’s approval of the company’s integrated resource plan.

The MPSC approved the plan in June of this year, making Consumers the first utility in the state to have an approved IRP.

“We were particularly gratified, and I think what the real accomplishment was is that we had such a wide spectrum of support for the plan,” Poppe said, “from our staunchest environmental advocates … all the way to our largest business customers.”

The parties in favor of the plan included the Michigan Environmental Council, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, the Association of Businesses Advocating Tariff Equity, Energy Michigan Inc., Independent Power Producers Coalition, Michigan Chemistry Council, Michigan Electric Transmission Company LLC and the Department of the Attorney General, according to earlier Business Journal reports.

Among the Clean Energy Plan’s highlights are:

  • More clean energy: Consumers Energy will meet 90% of customers’ electricity capacity needs through clean energy resources like renewable energy, energy waste reduction and energy storage by 2040. The energy provider will add 5,000 megawatts of solar energy by 2030.

  • Transition to zero coal: Carbon emissions from power plants will be reduced more than 90% by 2040.

  • Taking action on goals today: Consumers Energy is working now on goals to save one billion gallons of water, reduce waste to landfills by 35% and enhance, restore or protect 5,000 acres of land in Michigan.

  • More energy solutions: Consumers Energy encourages customers to use energy more efficiently. The company’s energy efficiency programs already have helped customers save $2.6 billion since 2009. Customers can reduce energy waste, shift energy use to more affordable times, invest in charging infrastructure for electric vehicles and support new renewable energy.

In addition to the plan, Consumers is asking customers and community members to be clean energy partners in the company’s long-term plan to protect the planet and Michigan’s energy future.

Examples include using more efficient light bulbs and appliances, powering air conditioners at the best times and subscribing to a community solar program.

“There’s new technology that is available to us today that was not available as little as two years ago,” Poppe said. “Combined with smart meters and smart thermostats, we can help optimize somebody’s usage so they don’t have to be uncomfortable.”

Switching from incandescent to LED lights is an important step to reducing energy waste. Poppe estimated LEDs are at least 50% less expensive than they were a couple of years ago.

Meijer is in the middle of a switch to LED lighting in all its stores.

Poppe also encouraged customers to sign up to join the clean energy movement at micleanenergyplan.com. The company will plant a tree in honor of each clean energy partner who signs up with an email address.

“You can learn about our programs, from as simple as an energy-efficiency audit if you’re a homeowner … to a more sophisticated solution in the form of a wirelessly communicating thermostat,” Poppe said.

For example, Consumers has a program that pays customers to get rid of their old appliances like refrigerators, washing machines, etc. The company will pay users $50 and pick up their outdated, energy-inefficient appliances, provided they still are operable.

Consumers’ unveiling of its ambitious community engagement strategy was marred by recent test findings by the Sierra Club, which previously voiced support for the IRP. The tests have shown drinking water is contaminated in neighborhoods around Consumers Energy's J.H. Campbell Coal Plant in West Olive, which is expected to retire in 2040 pursuant to Consumer’s zero coal transition.

The results found elevated levels of arsenic, lead and radium in homes that draw their water from private wells. Further investigation is needed to determine if groundwater contamination is spreading from the nearby coal ash ponds, where Consumers has found similar groundwater pollution. 

“The only way to truly protect our water from dangerous toxic coal pollution is to commit to a swifter transition to clean energy and the cleanup of toxic sites like the coal ash in West Olive,” said Jan O’Connell, development director of the Sierra Club’s Michigan Chapter. “West Michigan citizens shouldn’t have to wait until 2040 for clean air and water.”

The Sierra Club tested water from four homes near the Campbell plant in July. One home had arsenic levels 2½ times the safe level for drinking water, as well as elevated levels of lead and barium. A second home tested positive for barium and radium.

A third house showed no contaminants. A fourth home showed levels of arsenic and lead, but they did not exceed safe drinking water limits. Because groundwater pollution can migrate and move, further testing of more homes is needed in the area to determine where and how the contaminants are entering people's drinking water.

Poppe said Consumers shares the Sierra Club’s passion for clean water in Michigan, but its data is inconsistent with what Consumers has on file.

“We have no evidence that off our property there have been elevated levels of these constituents beyond normal safe water standards,” Poppe said. “We want to hear what they have to say because we want to make sure there’s clean water, and if they have data we don’t have, we’d love to see it.”

Poppe said the decision to give the Campbell plant the 2040 timeframe was to allow time to formulate a power replacement strategy and prevent building three new conventional power plants.

“To get all the Michiganders signed up for new programs and eliminating energy waste and deploying the solar panels takes time, so if we had to accelerate that plan, that could force us into having to build these fossil fuel plants, which is not what I think is the best thing for Michigan,” Poppe said.

Poppe did note the Consumers IRP is refiled with the MPSC every three to five years, and the plan can be adapted with new information.

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