The tide has clearly turned against building massive and expensive new coal fired power plants in Michigan. While all forms of energy generation have environmental impacts, coal plants present numerous risks for Great Lakes water, including mercury pollution, coal ash impoundment leaks and spills, and enormous water intakes and discharges. But the real issue is need – expert studies have shown that we don’t need more electricity from coal, given the opportunities in energy efficiency, conservation, and renewables, along with reduced demand from loss of manufacturing in Michigan. And it seems that both state regulators and the utilities themselves are now agreeing with these studies, and pulling plans to build new coal plants in the state.
First, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE) has denied a permit application by Wolverine Power Supply Cooperative to build a 600 megawatt coal fired power plant near Rogers City. The Great Lakes Environmental Law Center worked with the Sierra Club, Environmental Law and Policy Center in Chicago and numerous other organizations to oppose the Wolverine permit (see the detailed comment letter submitted last year), and the state’s denial of the permit is a huge victory for these organizations.
Then, just days after the state denied the Wolverine permit, Consumers Energy announced that it was putting on hold its plans to build an 830 megawatt coal fired power plant near Bay City. While the state had granted Consumers an air pollution permit, the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center had filed a legal challenge (working with the Natural Resources Defense Council and representing the Sierra Club) in state court, so the future of the proposal remained uncertain. However, in the end Consumers seems to have reached the same conclusion as NRDC and other experts – it just doesn’t pay to invest over $2 billion in a new coal plant. Instead, Consumers will focus on other alternatives, including a major investment in renewable energy. The project may come back, but for now, this is another huge victory for clean energy in Michigan. The Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Law and Policy Center, and Great Lakes Environmental Law Center made fighting new coal plants in Michigan a top priority, and their collective work has paid off with two big wins.