Economic Development, Government, and Sustainability

Judge rules for IRP revision

Environmental advocates argue DTE Energy’s plan undervalued energy efficiency and renewables.

January 3, 2020
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An administrative law judge ruled another major utility’s integrated resource plan be revised after protests from statewide environmental groups.

Administrative Law Judge Sally Wallace issued a recommendation for the Michigan Public Service Commission to insist on major revisions to Detroit-based DTE Energy’s integrated resource plan.

Environmental and consumer advocates, including the Michigan Environmental Council, successfully argued DTE’s proposed plan undervalued energy efficiency and renewables while also unnecessarily lengthening the life of old and expensive coal plants.

According to the MEC, more than 3,300 Michigan residents have submitted public comments and over 150 people attended the public hearing in June, the vast majority urging the commission to reject DTE’s plan.

“Utility IRPs are a significant and crucial planning method to ensure that millions of Michiganders have the most affordable and cleanest energy mix possible, now and into the future,” said Charlotte Jameson, program director for energy at MEC. “We continue to urge the commission to reject DTE's IRP and require the company to come back and file a new plan that rectifies the numerous errors clean energy and consumer advocates have identified.”

Among Wallace’s 15 recommendations to the MPSC was a critical finding that DTE’s IRP is “not a workable remedy,” and the company should therefore “be required to file an updated IRP 24 to 30 months after the commission issues its order in this case.”

Wallace also determined that DTE’s retirement analysis of the Belle River coal plant was insufficient — a key argument by the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council and Michigan Environmental Council.

“Instead of protecting clean water, clean air and our communities, DTE chooses to invest in their pocketbooks by doubling down on expensive, polluting fossil fuels," said Theresa Landrum, Detroit resident and activist with Sierra Club. “We call on the Michigan Public Service Commission to reject DTE’s polluting energy plan. Alternatively, we ask the MPSC to require them to design a plan that protects Michiganders and those living in the most heavily impacted communities by investing in cheaper and cleaner renewable energy sources, efficiency programs and storage technology.”

The judge also found:

  • DTE’s ownership analysis with regard to renewable energy sources should be rejected

  • DTE's failure to issue an RFP prior to filing its IRP doesn't meet the requirements of the statute

  • DTE should update its analysis of energy waste reduction in its next IRP

The recommendations of the judge will now be submitted to the MPSC for a final decision by the commission in early 2020.

In response to the ruling, DTE said it is evaluating Wallace’s recommendation in preparation for filing its own response, the next step in the integrated resource plan process.

“We respect and understand that the (judge’s) recommendation is a part of the IRP process,” the utility said in a statement. “The commission will consider the ALJ’s findings and conclusions, along with the full evidentiary record, in the final order expected early (this) year.

“As we continue to proceed through the IRP process, we remain committed to doing as much as we can, as fast as we can, to provide the communities we serve with more clean energy that is affordable and reliable.” 

Jackson-based Consumers Energy also had to modify its own IRP after a recommendation from Administrative Law Judge Sharon Feldman.

In her ruling, Feldman argued Consumers Energy’s modeling of the potential early retirement of two of its coal plants by 2023 relied on “certain unsupported assumptions and certain limited modeling choices.”

Feldman recommended the company provide a revised analysis and recognize other noneconomic and operational factors that indicate early retirement of one or more of those units by 2023 would not be feasible.

She also argued a financial compensation mechanism in Consumers’ IRP did not properly reflect the cost to Consumers Energy and its ratepayers of imputed debt, and if used in the competitive bidding process, would unfairly favor Consumers Energy and its affiliates.

After modifications were made, the MPSC found the settlement is “fair and reasonable and assures reliable service to customers.”

The MPSC approved Consumers Energy’s revised IRP in June, making it the first strategic, forward-looking IRP to be acted upon by the MPSC under the state’s energy laws passed in 2016.

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