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More coal-fired power going offline in Michigan

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DTE's St. Clair Power Plant in East China, Michigan. The plant burns a blend of low-sulfur western coal and high-sulfur eastern coal. Coal-burning power plants are one of the biggest sources of man-made mercury pollution.

DTE Energy is the state’s largest utility. It provides electricity to more than two million people in southeast Michigan. Until very recently, DTE leaned on coal-fired power to generate about 3/4 of that electricity.

But that’s about to change dramatically.

The news came down this week that DTE will close three of its remaining coal-fired power plants between 2020 and 2023.

Two of those plants are just south of Detroit, in River Rouge and Trenton. The other is in St. Clair County.

Brian Corbett is a spokesman for DTE. He says those three plants generated 25% of DTE’s electricity last year.

“That’s about enough to power about 900,000 homes,” he says.

DTE had already shut down parts of Trenton and River Rouge. But this move heralds some more sweeping changes.

Corbett says DTE will rely on a mix of natural gas, wind and solar power to make up for the lost capacity—a big shift away from its historic reliance on coal.

“The way DTE generates electricity is going to change a lot in the next ten years, probably more so than at any point in our history,” he says.

There are two big reasons for this shift.

These coal-fired plants are relatively old and inefficient, and coal is becoming more costly compared to other energy sources. DTE also needs to prepare to meet new national power plant emissions standards, even as those standards face some ongoing legal challenges.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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