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Public comments run overwhelmingly against DTE Energy 15-year plan

Shimekia Nichols of Soulardarity at press conference criticizing DTE Energy's first 15-year strategic plan, known as an Integrated Resource Plan (IRP).
Tracy Samilton

A large and mostly dissatisfied crowd attended a Michigan Public Service Commission public meeting in Detroit on Thursday to comment on DTE's first Integrated Resource Plan (IRP).

The plan sets out DTE's short-term and long-term plan to ensure reliability and reduce carbon emissions, which are causing global warming.

At a press conference before the meeting, members of environmental groups called the plan inadequate.

"DTE's IRP or 15 year plan is downright dangerous," said pro-solar advocate Shimekia Nichols of the group Soulardarity. "It runs against job creation. It does little if anything to slow or stop global warming, which includes record floods, fires, storms, and drought that come with global warming."

In its IRP, DTE proffers four possible pathways over the next fifteen years. All depend upon a new natural gas plant, currently under construction, to replace two of its coal-burning power plants. Two of the pathways call for a second natural gas plant to be built.

Public Service Commissioners Norman Saari, Sally Talberg, and Daniel Scripts (left to right)v
Credit Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Public Service Commissioners Norman Saari, Sally Talberg, and Daniel Scripts (left to right)

Natural gas, which is largely methane, emits about half the carbon dioxide when burned as coal, but producing it also results in methane leaks at the fracking field. Methane released directly into the air acts a powerful greenhouse gas. And the consensus from climate scientists is that humans need to quickly move towards a zero carbon future to avoid the worst consequences of climate disruption.

"This plan is a joke," Diana Post of Ann Arbor told the commissioners. "We need to bring about a future that is livable for our children. I request that the commission reject the IRP and send DTE back to the drawing board."

Many people also criticized DTE Energy for its small commitment to more solar in the IRP. DTE plans an 11 MW pilot project in the first five years, with an expansion to about 500 MW of solar in later years.

The plan compares unfavorably with Consumers Energy's IRP, which commits to about 5,000 MW of new solar by 2030 and 6,000 MW by 2040.

Several members of independent solar companies also spoke, complaining that DTE Energy is sitting on numerous requests to connect their projects to the grid.

A small number of faith leaders along with non-profit groups that have partnerships with DTE Energy spoke in favor of the plan. Several of the non-profit groups praised DTE Energy for being a good corporate citizen in Detroit.

"We support this IRP," said Brad Williams, Vice President of Government Relations for the Detroit Regional Chamber, largely, he explained, because its reliance on natural gas ensures reliable electricity for business customers of DTE.

DTE Energy is a member of the Detroit Regional Chamber.

DTE Energy representatives did not speak at the hearing, but in previous statements and press releases about the IRP, the utility says its plan will reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 80% over 2005 levels, and shut down its last remaining coal-burning plant by 2040.

The utility says reliable electricity is not possible without a fuel source like natural gas that can be consumed on demand, when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing.

NOTE: DTE is one of Michigan Radio's corporate sponsors

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Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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