Two down, three to go. That’s the latest tally in the fight to stop new coal plants in Michigan and move the state towards clean, renewable energy. In the past few weeks, two of the proposed coal plants in Michigan have officially voided their permit applications – Northern Michigan University’s Ripley Heating Plant in Marquette and Mid-Michigan Energy/LS Power’s proposed plant in Midland.
The Northern Michigan University plant took a major legal blow in February when the U.S. EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board sided with the Sierra Club on several key issues in its challenge to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s air permit. The EPA Environmental Appeals Board’s decision, PSD Appeal No. 08-02, ruled that the Michigan DEQ was required to consider wood burning or other cleaner fuel sources when determining the Best Available Control Technology (BACT) for the proposed coal boiler under the federal Clean Air Act. Renewable wood would produce less sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions than the coal that Northern Michigan University proposed using, and thus the DEQ must require wood or other cleaner fuels pursuant to BACT whenever possible. The EPA decision further directed the Michigan DEQ to consider requiring BACT for carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, the primary greenhouse gas that causes global climate change. After the EPA decision, Northern Michigan University wisely gave up its plan to use more coal to meet its energy needs.
The reasons for Mid-Michigan Energy dropping its proposed plant in Midland are less clear. It’s likely a combination of the new legal precedent from the Northern Michigan University case, the EPA’s moves towards regulating greenhouse gas emissions nationally, and various economic factors that make building a coal plant just a bad business decision. And as with Northern Michigan University’s decision, the growing opposition to coal plants from a diversity of citizens and organizations played a huge role.
With these two down, the remaining three proposals for new coal plants in Michigan with permit decisions pending are the Wolverine Power Cooperative proposal in Rogers City, the Holland Board of Public Works proposal, and the Consumers Energy proposal near Bay City. Public comments on the Consumers Energy proposal just closed – see the lengthy and detailed comments submitted by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Law and Policy Center, the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, and the Sierra Club on behalf of a coalition of environmental organizations. The national trend of moving from coal to clean energy finally seems to be playing out in Michigan, although the work is far from done.