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Public Service Commission sends much of DTE Energy plan "back to the drawing board"

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio

In a decision that energy analyst Joe Daniel of the Union of Concerned Scientists called a "Midwest Nice" rejection, the Michigan Public Service Commission sent much of DTE Energy's first proposed Integrated Resource Plan, or IRP, "back to the drawing board."

Michigan law now requires utilities to submit short and long-term plans, called IRPs, for how they will meet customers' electricity needs while reducing emissions.

DTE's proposed IRP had been harshly criticized by stakeholders including leading environmental groups in the months leading up to the decision -- as well as by thousands of individuals who submitted comments with the commission. 

The commission agreed with many of the criticisms.  The order said the utility's plans for how it will generate electricity over the next 15 years had "fundamental flaws," making the commission's examination of "new supply-side resources," (including renewables) "not possible."

The commission also questioned DTE Energy's plans to not retire its coal-fired Belle River power plant until 2029 or 2030, because the utility did not include an analysis of the cost of environmental upgrades for the plant.

In addition, the commission called for DTE Energy to increase its annual energy savings goals, to 1.75% in 2020 and 2% in 2021. 

In a press release, the commission said "programs that help customers cut energy waste through more efficient appliances, insulation and equipment are the most cost-effective option to replace aging coal plants and protect the environment."

Charlotte Jameson of the Michigan Environmental Council attributed the robust response from the public to how flawed DTE's plan was.  "I think people were very riled up," she said.

The commission is ordering DTE Energy to meet with stakeholders at a later date to discuss ways to improve its modeling, including how it models the cost of renewables.

The commission also noted that DTE did not submit a request for proposals for new electric generation resources, such as third party-owned wind and solar projects.

"The cost estimates that they were using for renewable energy were way higher than what they would have gotten via testing market prices," agrees Jameson.

DTE Energy issued this statement:

DTE’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) reflects our long-term goals and plans to be a leader in providing cleaner energy to our customers. The Commission’s action today is an important step in this iterative process and we are evaluating the recommendations in preparation for filing our response. Since 2009, DTE has been the largest investor in renewables in Michigan, driving $3 billion in solar and wind energy infrastructure and investments. Over the next decade, we will triple our renewable energy assets, generating enough energy from wind and solar to power more than 1.3 million homes with clean energy. As one of the first U.S. energy companies to announce a net zero carbon emissions goal, we are proud of our commitment to cut our carbon emissions 50% by 2030 and 80% by 2040. Our plan of action also enables us to continue to provide our customers with significant energy efficiency savings.

The Commission will allow DTE Energy to submit a revised IRP, focusing on the short-term part of the plan, by March 21st.
It's notable that not all of the language in the Commission's order took the "Midwest Nice," approach.
"Should DTE Electric fail to file a revised IRP that substantially adopts the recommended changes," it reads, "the Commission will be left with little alternative but to deny the IRP."

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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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