Opinion | Let’s all make Michigan a leader in addressing climate change

Gerry Anderson

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exceeds what former President Barack Obama’s EPA’s Clean Power Plan would have required of us had it not been rescinded.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.

 

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan.

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Comments

Kevin Grand
Thu, 08/22/2019 - 9:06am

Mr. Anderson,

I'd.rather see DTE focusing on getting energy to our homes instead of kow-towing to the environmental alarmist crowd.

If you cannot figure out where power losses are located, restore it in a timely manner and immediately credit customers, especially after you made your customers switch over to "smart meters" , you're too focused on the wrong priorities.

Bones
Thu, 08/22/2019 - 10:12am

Libertarians: As dumb and short-sighted as ever. Never stop being angry about the wrong thing, Kevin

Kevin Grand
Thu, 08/22/2019 - 11:07am

And that would be what exactly, Bones?

Scott Payne
Sun, 08/25/2019 - 3:43pm

Name-calling is not argument and doesn't deal with fact. It's merely a childish, playground antic.

Stephen C Brown
Thu, 08/22/2019 - 11:01am

True Libertarians supply their own power.

Joe
Thu, 08/22/2019 - 12:18pm

Bingo! Maybe if we nationalize DTE, it would work much better. As to Kevin, it seems that DTE does have its priorities in the wrong place, pollution and profits, while providing third world service. Every time there is some wind, we lose power for days. So it would be smart to harness that wind for power. They also should bury the electrical lines. They say it's too expensive, but cities everywhere are replacing their water and gas lines. It's too expensive for DTE because DTE makes mountains of money by charging us for bad service. Customers need to complain more and take to the streets. DTE sucks.

Matt
Thu, 08/22/2019 - 4:00pm

I don't think you understand libertarianism. Saying we should generate our own power makes as much sense as saying we should make our own cars. Even if we could, we probably shouldn't.

Joe
Mon, 08/26/2019 - 9:44am

They're generating their own power with solar panels in Germany. So you're wrong again, about being a libertarian and about generating energy. Waiting for an ignorant response for strike three!

Charles Carpenter
Thu, 08/22/2019 - 9:08am

When DTE supports home solar and community solar at the risk of their monopoly, then I will start to believe they are committed to addressing climate change.

J. Katakowski
Thu, 08/22/2019 - 6:10pm

DTE should totally support all the individuals supplying energy to them by solar and wind or anything else that works to decrease their use of generating by natural gas. When DTE uses alternate sources by folks putting back into their power grid how can that be bad. It saves building these expensive new generating plants. No brainer. Clean energy can never be bad.

Joe
Mon, 08/26/2019 - 9:46am

Amen! Excellent response, very libertarian, unlike Matt who likes corporate monopolistic WELFARE that we the tax payers subsidize.

Christopher Edwards
Thu, 08/22/2019 - 10:05am

Wind Energy, a big scam
Credit: The Leader | April 4, 2019 | www.clintoncountyleader.com ~~

Wind energy may be the biggest scam in the U.S. I am a retired engineer with over 30 years’ experience working with electric utilities. I have been against wind turbines ever since they were first introduced.

Wind turbines are not economically viable and are only built because of the billions of dollars in tax incentives that is being wasted by our government to support them. Our government plans to spend over $40 billion over the next nine years in support of wind energy. I have a letter from US Representative Sam Graves in which he states, “We should not be providing tax incentives for a source of energy that is not economically viable. Instead, we should focus our efforts on alternative energy sources that can support themselves.” Even with the tax incentives, everywhere wind turbines have gone into production, electric rates have gone up.

Despite all of the media hype, wind energy is not “green.” First of all it does not and cannot replace any of the fossil fuel generators currently in production because it is too unreliable. Wind turbines require a minimum wind speed of 10 MPH to operate and 25 to 31 MPH to reach full output. In Northwest Missouri, the average wind speed is below the 10 MPH threshold, on average, about 250 days per year. Factoring in the steel required to build the wind turbines and the energy that they burn to keep the rotors turning slowly when not generating, they have a negative impact on the environment.

Wind turbines create health and environmental problems in the communities where they are installed. Property values are also reduced because nobody wants to live among them. In the letter referenced above, Rep. Graves acknowledges that, “new wind farms projects come with real, negative consequences.”

With all of the wind turbines currently installed in the US, they represent less than eight percent of the electric generation. Bottom line is that we can’t build enough wind turbines to really do any good, and even if enough capacity was built, it is still too unreliable to do any good. The large developers installing the wind turbines don’t care about efficiency, meteorological data, or community concerns. It is all about the money, the tax incentives. We need to stop the tax incentives, and then all the other problems will go away.

Fred Campbell

Clarksdale, MO 64430

Matt
Thu, 08/22/2019 - 3:52pm

YES!! God help us if we try to build enough to supply us! Even though that isn't possible! And then there's solar! Everything we put into these is a waste and we'd be far ahead investing in and getting nuclear power up to scale and working the problems out of that than these sub 50% solutions.

Joe
Mon, 08/26/2019 - 9:52am

Then we can add radiation to the PFAS in our drinking water!

Matt
Thu, 08/22/2019 - 4:07pm

Nothing in your link?

Steve
Thu, 08/22/2019 - 8:52pm

And what does this have to do with DTE? Also, I dont know where you are getting your figures, but they are not right.

Mickie Barnhart
Thu, 08/22/2019 - 10:08am

The climate crisis and our efforts to address it aren't helped adequately by claiming to surpass or even by surpassing the goals of past presidents. Rather the goal is to do what it takes to meet and surmount the crisis. All efforts to turn to sustainable energy sources are welcome even when they aren't enough to meet the reality of the situation. DTE is in a unique position, as an energy provider, to lend its vast expertise and knowledge about the public's (industry and consumers) wasteful and excessive use of energy. Help us like never before to consume less energy -- seriously less, adequately less, smartly less -- by educating us and by incentivizing us. DTE, your leadership is needed in addition to your responsiveness to the leadership or lack thereof of others.

Marco Menezes
Thu, 08/22/2019 - 10:47am

Rereading the Sierra Club’s letter, I find nothing “partisan or divisive” about it. The authors merely state the plain facts: that DTE’s long term plans evince a continuing commitment to fossil fuels, and that their proposed investment in renewables is meager in comparison to what other major utilities have announced. Further, it’s indisputable that DTE’s investment in producing fracked natural gas incentivizes their construction of gas-fired electrical plants. So, while some versions of their plan may represent incremental progress, those are insufficient to get them where they and we need them to be if climate catastrophe is to be averted. Making prudent decisions in light of overwhelming science is just good business.

marco
Tue, 08/27/2019 - 9:14am

What MUST we do to avoid a "climate catastrophe?"

Stephen C Brown
Thu, 08/22/2019 - 10:59am

This is informative, but the truth will be in the IRP details that almost no citizens have the time, energy, or knowledge to independently review. DTE has already lost community trust from past actions, so its up to them to be more transparent about the details of these 4 plans. The MPSC staff analyses must be respected and publicly available before the Commissioners here public comment and make their determination. Regulatory capture has been a curse over the past 40 years, and this fact must be acknowledged by all parties, public and private. I'm eager to see how this public process works out, and especially whether the East China plant will be come a stranded cost to the ratepayers if a truly sincere investment in efficiency (negawatts- $4.50 saved for every $1 spent) and renewables, including grid infrastructure, is really one of these options presented by DTE in its IRP.

Al Warner
Thu, 08/22/2019 - 11:27am

Thank you for taking the time to write your counterpoint to the Sierra Club op ed. I especially appreciated your comparisons to the Obama Clean Power Plan. Over the last couple of weeks, I have been pouring over your latest Integrated Resource Plan. It's fact filled and shows the (mind numbing) depth and discipline of DTE's analysis. You are not the enemy here, but are you truly the friend? Your company has sowed the seeds of distrust through your lobbying efforts on roof top solar tariff and the 2016 PA 342 mandate of 15% renewables by 2021. I see slick ads promoting that DTE has spent billions on renewables and yet, you are only meeting the mandate. Right now, per your IRP, DTE owns:
Fossil fueled steam units 7 GW (1 gigawatt = 1000 megawatts)
Fossil fueled peakers 2 GW
Nuclear 1 GW
Pumped storage 1 GW (Doesn't make power, only manages it)
Wind 0.7 GW (0.4 GW Power Purchase Agreements)
Solar 0.06 GW
Over the next 5 yrs, the Proposed Course of Action is
Retire coal units 2 GW
New Nat Gas Combined Cycle 1 GW
Wind 0.7 GW (for Ford and GM commitments, ONLY?)
Solar 0.0 (Next time, if it gets cheaper!)
Beyond that, you are committing to achieve 50% CO2 reduction by 2030 with a yet to be defined plan but in the neighborhood of only 25% renewables and no retirement of the last 5 GW of coal fired production. Isn't it becoming apparent that 50% will not be enough?

If you are the leader in the industry that you say you are, then you can help end the divisiveness by ads putting information in context that educates your customers on the implications of global warming (every ad should have a Mauna Loa CO2 reading w/ the year ago reading in the corner). People must be reminded constantly of why they must spend more to wage a war on CO2/methane contamination of our atmosphere. Electricity is more than just a bill!

Bernadette
Thu, 08/22/2019 - 1:23pm

Thank you Al for your thoughtful response to this article. I agree with Mr. Anderson's comment: "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." and I also agree that the Sierra Club made some important points as well.

Mr. Anderson uses words such as: badly misrepresents , the opinion piece fuels etc. This makes me question if Mr. Anderson really wants to be solve the problem or continue to add to the divisiveness. Collaboration and dialogue are the skills needed to build a better future for all. Trust of government and major organizations is at an all time low. That needs to be addressed. I don't see that happening until we have a legal government in MI once again. The Republicans have gerrymandered their way into power, have the money from rich donors and organizations whom they protect, and have done everything in their power to continue to cut taxes for the rich.

Climate change is the most important issue of the day, solutions must be designed and implemented and trust must be rebuilt in MI.

Paul Jordan
Thu, 08/22/2019 - 12:45pm

Wasn't it DTE that was behind successful efforts to reduce the amount of credit that homeowners received for the power that their home solar/wind arrays generated? I think that we can trust DTE to wholeheartedly pursue the bottom-line interests of its executives and shareholders over any concern about the climate or rate payers. Everything else is misdirection and puffery.

Sunny
Thu, 08/22/2019 - 1:07pm

We should be relying much more on solar energy, like they have been doing in cloudy Germany for decades.

https://www.wired.com/story/in-germany-solar-powered-homes-are-catching-on/

If they can to it there, we should be able to do it here in Michigan.

Now there is no incentive for DTE to provide cheap efficient energy. DTE has a for-profit monopoly. A real libertarian would support the opportunity to allow people to generate their own power and sell the excess. A real libertarian would want to hold polluters responsible, civilly and criminally, for interfering with the health and safety rights of other libertarians. We are a country of corporate welfare. Germany is a socially responsible capitalistic country. We need a Marshall Plan for the US so we can compete with Germany.

Matt
Thu, 08/22/2019 - 4:33pm

Sunny: Questions from a fairly libertarian guy. Have you any comparison of electricity bills here verse Germany? (It’s multiples!) No problem with letting home hobbyists sell their power. Why not hook up your neighbors? But beyond this, why should DTE(really their customers!! ) be rquired to pay way more than wholesale rates for this power? How much is this power really worth considering it's in small unreliable or unplannable amounts? Since all people emit CO2 just by exhaling let alone demanding heat and power and food should we hold them responsible too? What do you against poor people who must pay a much larger percentage of their incomes for power?

Sunny
Fri, 08/23/2019 - 1:15pm

Your comments are silly. The US subsidizes energy production, distribution, and environmental damage, so the costs are not market-based. The German prices reflect the previous mentioned true costs. So there is a market created for libertarians who don't want to be enslaved by the companies like DTE. "Since all people emit CO2 just by exhaling..." So as a "libertarian", you like government chosen monopolies? You have lost all credibility as a libertarian and seem more akin to DTE stooge on the government corporate welfare teat.

Matt
Thu, 08/22/2019 - 4:48pm

Oh and BTW Germany for being so CO2 conscious, their CO2 emissions went up while the US's went down since the Paris accord.

Wondering
Thu, 08/22/2019 - 1:17pm

Why does DTE spend our money on advertising?

Matt
Thu, 08/22/2019 - 4:04pm

What is the relationship between solar and wind and the necessary back-up power required at various levels? 30%, 40? 50?

Alex Sagady
Thu, 08/22/2019 - 11:59pm

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials in the East Lansing office, none of the wind turbine farms in the State of Michigan comply with the 'incidental takes' and 'habitat conservation plan' requirements of the federal Endangered Species Act and its requirements for protected species under ESA and other federal law protecting migratory avian species.

Some wind electric power generation farms in Michigan are declaring their reports of biological damage and incidental takes to be 'confidential business information' (CBI) that is withheld from disclosure to the public.

The Trump Administration recently precipitously terminated the USFWS Midwest Wind Energy Conservation Plan at the executive level in the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Outside of the occurrence of white nose fungus disease, wind turbine operations are the primary cause of mortalities to bat species, most of which are completely unprotected by law, with the exception of endangered Indiana and Northern Long Erred bats. Wind turbines kill bats in addition to killing birds by direct strikes:
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/bat-killings-by-wind-energy-t...

http://www.batcon.org/component/batmag/bat_article/1607

Groups like Sierra Club will use the Endangered Species Act to challenge proposed pipelines like the Keystone XL Pipeline by saying that a few miles of modest electric power lines to pumping stations will threaten migratory bird species, but then such groups will completely ignore the effects on endangered species of hundreds of miles of new electric power high tension lines necessary to transport power from greenfield wind and solar facilities [and the land demand of such facilities], and then to also ignore the effect of these wind facilities have on endangered species as the Sierra Club in Michigan ignores such effects with Michigan wind energy development. This is what happens when environmental organizations do not have any commitment to actual scientific and engineering integrity and environmental and natural resource stewardship, or they say they do but don't actually practice it.

DTE Energy recently invested in the worst-sited wind energy farm in the State of Michigan for avian protection, the facility on the Garden Peninsula of Michigan on a designated migratory bird flyway between Michigan and Wisconsin's Door Peninsula. DTE doesn't even have a reliable electrical transport connection to that facility from their service territory after electric lines in the Mackinac Strait were disrupted, yet they are claiming the Garden Peninsula generating site as part of their "green power" sales initiative.

The fundamental problem of wind-generated electricity generation and other types of renewable generation is that they are not reliable. Periods of atmospheric stagnation and multiple weeks of low wind speed insufficient to generate any electricity mean that the generating capacity of such wind turbine units must be backed up with reliable and dispatchable generation which is most often from natural gas fired combustion units.
Michigan State University found this lesson out when it determined that it had to install natural gas-fired internal combustion engines to back up its massive solar parking lot installation when it does not generate electricity at night or it is covered with snow. This problem cannot be solved with utility sized batteries whose technology is limited to providing power for periods of only a few hours at a time....less than a day's worth of electricity storage. Summertime is the worst season for wind generation in the midwest when your multi-billion investment in wind energy generates little or no energy for weeks at a time:

https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=20112

Ideologically insane politicians on the left like Bernie Sanders and many national environmental groups claim to be for "clean energy" while they advocate the shutdown of nuclear energy plants that provide the overwhelming majority of all zero-carbon electrical generation in the USA -- a case of alleged advocates of so-called 'climate action' engaging in greenhouse gas emission control malpractice. ....and that they are so blatantly proud of their misfeasance and malpractice is a sign of chronic pathology and science denial that they themselves accuse others of.

marco
Tue, 08/27/2019 - 9:17am

Apparently, some people believe that you ae not doing enough fast enough to avoid a "climate catastrophe."

Anonymous
Tue, 08/27/2019 - 9:46am

I'd rather Michigan followed a well tested, successful, sustainable energy system, than be the the guinea-pig. The technology is not quite there. The much lauded wind turbines slaughter thousands of bees, birds and bats..back to the drawing board please.