Gerry Anderson is executive chairman of DTE Energy.
The recent opinion piece in Bridge Magazine, authored by Gail Philbin and Fred Miller on behalf of the Sierra Club, badly misrepresents the facts about DTE Energy’s past efforts and future plans to transform its energy production and sharply reduce its carbon emissions. The opinion piece fuels what we see too much of today: division and unnecessary partisan discord around critical public policy issues.
To be clear, DTE is absolutely committed to making sharp carbon reductions. Nearly three years ago in early 2017, after our country elected a new president and many were asking if our nation would reverse course on its climate change initiatives, DTE was the first energy company in Michigan and one of two in the nation to step forward affirmatively and commit to an 80 percent carbon reduction goal – a bold step that other energy companies across the country have since followed. DTE received a climate leadership award that year from the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions for the company’s national leadership on carbon reduction initiatives.
Just two years later, DTE accelerated its commitment and moved up its 80 percent carbon emissions goal by a full decade.
To date, our company has driven investments of more than $2 billion into renewables, resulting in 1,158 megawatts of wind and solar capacity. Just this year we began producing energy from our largest renewable investment to date, a 160 megawatt wind farm in central Michigan. These steps have lowered our carbon emissions by over 25 percent -- a reduction that materially exceeds what former President Barack Obama’s EPA’s Clean Power Plan would have required of us had it not been rescinded.
Looking forward, we will substantially expand our renewable energy production. DTE is in motion to more than double its renewable energy production over the next five years by investing $2.5 billion in wind and solar facilities. In addition, Ford, General Motors and the University of Michigan made major commitments this year to our voluntary MiGreenPower renewable energy program, with more companies certain to join them. We expect to triple our renewable capacity by 2030 and expand it four-to five-fold by 2040.
We have firm plans to retire three large coal plants – in River Rouge, Trenton and St. Clair -- by 2022. These plants represent nearly 2,000 megawatts or -- about 20 percent of our peak energy needs. To help backfill those retirements, in addition to our investments in renewables, we are building one of the most efficient natural gas plants in the country. It will emit about 70 percent less carbon per kilowatt hour than the three retiring coal plants and generate 1,000 megawatts of electricity, which is vital to maintaining reliability in our state as we continue to retire coal plants.
When these steps are completed in the early 2020s, DTE’s carbon emissions will be down about 35 percent, on the path to our commitment of 50 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2040. (It is worth noting that Obama’s Clean Power Plan required that DTE lower its emissions 32 percent by 2030 - well below our 50 percent commitment.)
By 2040, DTE will be coal free.
The Sierra Club’s opinion piece claims that our future plans hinge on building a second natural gas plant. That is a misrepresentation. Our recently filed Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) proposed four future scenarios; the Sierra Club chose to talk about only two.
Two of our future scenarios include no new gas plant and rely entirely on additional renewable investments and increased energy efficiency spending.
Two other scenarios include varying levels of both additional renewable and gas investments, along with expanded energy efficiency.
A gas plant will be added only if essential for reliability – our preferred path would be to add renewables only. All four scenarios meet our carbon reduction targets. We offered four options in the interest of open, transparent dialogue with the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) and other interested parties. Technology is evolving quickly, and options give us the ability to be flexible in an uncertain future. By highlighting only selected scenarios, the Sierra Club opinion piece chose a more divisive route.
A key feature of the IRP process is that it is iterative – meaning DTE will update its plan every three to five years. Energy production has entered a highly transformative era. We have no intention – indeed, it would be exceedingly unwise – to lock in decisions today about important investments 10, 15 or 20 years into the future. Together we will choose what is best for our state and region. Solutions will be based on the best available information in the future about a host of important factors, including environmental imperatives, evolving renewable cost structures, technology advancements and state and regional reliability requirements.
DTE is committed to its communities – to creating jobs for the people who live in them and to providing the clean, reliable and affordable energy they need to thrive. Our power generation transformation is both an aggressive carbon reduction plan and rooted in reality.
Climate change is one of the defining public policy issues of our time. We are fully committed to doing our part to address it – we know that is our responsibility. As we do that, we hope that Michigan can be an example of how such critical policy issues should be addressed: by finding common ground that supports real solutions rather than by intentionally seeking to cast issues in divisive terms.