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Judge: DTE Energy's long-term plan is flawed

DTE Energy
via Twitter

DTE Energy missed the mark with many aspects of its proposed long-term energy plan, according to an administrative law judge’s ruling this week.

Judge Sally Wallace found that some portions of DTE’s Integrated Resource Plan don’t comply with state law. DTE has submitted its required IRP to the Michigan Public Service Commission for approval, laying out how it plans to meet the state’s long-range energy needs.

But a number of groups, as well as Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office, have intervened in the case. They point to what they call DTE’s use of bad data and flawed modeling to produce results that understate the benefits of renewable energy sources and energy efficiency, and instead favor continued reliance on more traditional energy sources, including natural gas.

“If you start from a place where you’re baking in errors into the modeling, then obviously the results that you’re going to get out the other end are not going to be reliable,” says Charlotte Jameson of the Michigan Environmental Council, one of the groups that’s intervened in the case.

Wallace says DTE’s IRP, which lays out a defined power generation plan for the next 4-5 years and then a series of four potential “pathways” after that, doesn’t meet statutory requirements for a concrete, long-term plan. She also ruled that by failing to solicit bids for renewable energy projects, the company’s cost assumptions for those projects are invalid.

“The numbers that DTE used in the IRP for wind and for solar were a lot more expensive than what we think they could have gotten,” said Jameson.

Wallace also ruled that DTE failed to fully account for the cost savings available through increased energy efficiency. “She indicated that the analysis for energy efficiency that the company had done should be redone, and was flawed,” Jameson said.

Given these issues, DTE should come back to the MPSC with a revised IPR regardless of whether the MPSC approves its current proposal, Wallace suggested. “And that’s really, really critical to make sure that DTE goes and fixes all of these flaws and errors,” Jameson said.

But Wallace’s ruling is merely advisory, and commissioners aren’t obligated to act on its recommendations. “It does carry a decent amount of weight with the commissioners, but it doesn’t bind them in any way,” said Jameson.

DTE is “thoroughly reviewing” the ruling and will file a response with the MPSC, the company said in a written statement.

“We respect and understand that the ALJ’s recommendation is a part of the IRP process,” the statement goes on to say. “The Commission will consider the ALJ’s findings and conclusions, along with the full evidentiary record, in the final order expected early next 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.” 

The MPSC is expected to issue a decision on DTE’s IRP sometime early next year.

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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