DTE Energy vows ‘net zero’ on carbon emissions for electric business by 2050

DTE Energy sign

DTE Energy, which provides electricity to 2.2 million customers in southeast Michigan, says it will reach “net zero” carbon emissions by 2050 in an effort to address climate change. (Bridge file photo)

Trevor Lauer, president and chief operating officer for DTE Electric, said the utility company wants others nationwide to pursue similar goals, in hopes that the federal government will speed research in clean energy technology and set policies to make them economically viable.


DTE Energy on Thursday announced plans to slash carbon dioxide emissions in its electric company to “net zero” by 2050 — an updated goal aimed at addressing the earth’s rapid warming from greenhouse gases.

DTE Electric Co., the state’s biggest electric provider, serves 2.2 million customers in southeast Michigan. It had already set goals to cut emissions 50 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2040 — in part by shutting coal plants in the coming years.

The utility would not necessarily stop emitting carbon dioxide altogether. Reaching “net zero” might include offsetting emissions elsewhere — whether by replenishing forests or sucking carbon from the air in other ways. Reaching the goal would require advances in technologies that are not yet viable on a large scale, said Trevor Lauer, president and chief operating officer for DTE Electric. Those include carbon capture and sequestration and energy storage in batteries. 

Lauer said DTE wants utilities nationwide to pursue similar goals, in hopes that the federal government will speed research in clean energy technology and set policies to make them economically viable — such as by putting a price on carbon emissions.

“There's been a barrier in the last 20 years with the federal government,” Lauer said. “What all of us need to do is expect our federal government to lay out a path forward, that helps us with climate change.”

The move follows President Trump’s vow to the leave the Paris Climate Agreement, a global pact to fight climate change, and the engineering of a dramatic rollback of environmental regulations across the federal government.  

The goal also comes as the Michigan Public Service Commission scrutinizes DTE’s “Integrated Resource Plan” — a long-term vision utilities must file every five years. Some consumer and environmental advocates allege the plan keeps coal plants running too long and leans too heavily on natural gas while underestimating the value of solar power. 

DTE’s net zero goal drew praise from some lawmakers and advocates for action on climate action, while other environmental groups levied skepticism about how DTE would reach the target without changing the plan proposed to the Public Service Commission. 

DTE previously announced plans to close three coal plants by 2022 and replace the lost coal generation with at least one new natural gas facility: a $1 billion plant in St. Clair County. DTE would retire its Belle River coal plant by 2030 and run its Monroe coal plant until 2040. DTE has also said it plans to add more wind power in the next few years and bolster energy efficiency programs before significantly ramping up solar.

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, a Democrat, applauded DTE’s announcement. So did the Republican chairs of Michigan’s House and Senate energy committees. 

"As a major employer in our districts, we have seen DTE fulfill its commitments over the years to provide safe, affordable and reliable power and be a positive local presence in our communities,” Sen. Dan Lauwers, R-Brockway Township, and Rep. Joe Bellino, R-Monroe, said in a joint statement circulated by DTE.

“We applaud DTE's new goal as it sets a ‘true north’ course for Michigan without sacrificing their focus on affordability and reliability."

Bob Perciasepe, president of the Arlington, Va.-based Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, said DTE was “pushing the envelope” with the “ambitious” plan. 

The goal would not apply to DTE Gas Co., which delivers natural gas to industrial and residential customers over 2,118 miles of transmission pipelines.

Critics of DTE’s long-term plan say they are skeptical and want more details. 

Charlotte Jameson, energy policy and legislative affairs director for the Michigan Environmental Council, called the idea of a net zero goal a positive, but added: “We have a lot of concerns with an approach to hit this goal that continues to rely heavily on natural gas.” 

Lisa Wozniak, executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, called DTE’s goal “a step in the right direction,” but added in a statement: “Their track record on investing in clean, renewable energy ⁠— and the company’s recent flawed, long-range energy plan ⁠— leave us feeling skeptical.” 

DTE’s critics point to plans by the state’s other large electric utility — Consumers Energy — to reach its goal of cutting carbon emissions 90 percent by 2040 without building a natural gas plant. Patti Poppe, CEO of Consumers Energy, said investing in a new plant would “saddle the people of Michigan” with unnecessary costs. 

But DTE executives say investing in natural gas generation is the only way to keep the lights on and rates affordable, and they suggest comparing DTE to Consumers is like apples and oranges. That’s partly because DTE generates more of its own power than Consumers, which relies more on outside contracts.

“Everybody should be really proud that they have two utilities in the state that are moving very aggressively on renewable energy,” said Lauer, the DTE Electric president. 

Experts have been warning of dire consequences unless the world rapidly weans itself fossil fuels, which spew heat-trapping gasses speeding climate change.

Last year, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — comprising the world’s top scientists — said the world must reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 to limit manmade warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Without dramatic decreases in greenhouse gas emissions, severe drought and coastal flooding could displace millions of people in low-lying areas, disrupt global food supplies and destabilize some governments, the report warned.

Climate change could bring some tourism to a warming but still relatively mild Michigan, but it could also mean more flooding, toxic algae, challenges for farmers, species extinctions and public health risks, experts say.

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Thu, 09/26/2019 - 4:11pm

There is ZERO evidence /real data of man-made climate change. Every model hasn't come close to reality - the bar keeps moving. The Solar Cycle is the primary control for climate. Also, CO2 is needed for life, the more, the more Greening and Crop Yields that reduce hunger around the world. There is no evidence that shows how much man made CO2 contributes to the overall atmospheric levels which is ~4%. CO2 levels rise about 700 years after a Solar Cycle Warming.

It is amazing how the Climate Change Hoax materializes over years. I would like to see the Govt put $500M over 5 years and write the Request for Proposals in a way opposite the way they have been written for decades....have them now show there is no man-made climate change....You will see all these Professors/Scientists that live on Grants change their tune very quickly.

Too little too late
Thu, 09/26/2019 - 5:36pm

That seems to be your unsupported opinion. Most of us SEE the effects of the climate change crisis with more severe violent extreme weather episodes and patterns. Miami for example is sinking and having to spend billions to maintain sewers.

Paul Jordan
Fri, 09/27/2019 - 10:35am

Hello, troll or bot!
I'm sorry, you have the right to your own opinion but not your own facts.
Climate change is real, and human activities are the driving force behind it. There is scientific consensus on this. It has been known SINCE THE LATE 1800s that increased atmospheric carbon dioxide increases the heat trapped in the atmosphere. I was taught it IN JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL in the 1960s.
This is not rocket science. It is not dependent on new knowledge. Increasing the proportion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increases the temperature of the atmosphere--period.
Claiming otherwise is treason against life.

Sat, 09/28/2019 - 3:58am

Paul- Consensus on models is not fact/reality....Show me your facts where human activities are behind climate change. Show me. I have given you facts on numbers in the video. In fact, while you are at it....look up the numbers of how many people have died in the world due to climate...hint: than number has been dropping significantly since 1920. Then I suggest you ask yourself about the biosphere and what caused the tens to hundreds of feet of ice that once covered Michigan as we know it today.....human activity? You have been taught this since the 1960s and you still believe it even with all the evidence that none of the models are accurate and reality proves it wrong....Ok!

Al Warner
Fri, 09/27/2019 - 12:54pm

We must blow right past people like this and declare war on CO2/methane pollution and yes, it's going to be expensive. Lead, follow or just get out of the way.

Alex Sagady
Fri, 09/27/2019 - 1:04am

The Province of Ontario generates about 94% of its electric power from non-carbon sources as of 2018 --- NOT 2030, 2040 or 2050 -- primarily with nuclear energy followed by hydro sources.

Here in Michigan, none of the wind generation projects operating or planned in the state are in compliance with the Endangered Species Act requirements for incidental takes and habitat conservation plans according to officials in the Michigan office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service....and the Trump Administration recently ended the Midwest Wind Energy Conservation Plan that would have assisted with this problem on a multi-state basis.

Michigan environmental groups do not acknowledge electric power engineering realities and limitations about wind energy, solar power and the use of batteries for storing electrical energy.

Wind power in the midwest typically takes a multi-week dive in mid-summer because of atmospheric stagnation conditions leave multi-state geographical areas with winds too low to generate any appreciable fraction of wind unit capacity:

Solar power is useless at night, and typical heavy cloud conditions with multiple day events of heavy stratus cloud cover typical for Michigan in fall, winter and spring mean that solar-heavy resource plans will have the same kind of multi-day generation drop that wind units have during Michigan summers.....with generation cut by 80-90% under heavy cloud conditions.
Grand Rapids area.....157 days of cloudy conditions:

As for utility-sized battery systems, there is nothing available that will store 100% of the load carried by wind or solar and provide energy for multiple day to week periods....that technology doesn't exist. This is why reliance on wind and solar ends up tying electric utilities to backup generation via fossil fueled electrical generation -- a lesson the Michigan State University has learned with its solar parking lot units which are going to be backed up with natural gas-fired internal combustion engines that were just permitted earlier this year.....for times with the solar parking lot units are covered with snow, at night, or for extended heavy cloud conditions. Michigan is NOT southern California or Arizona for purpose of electric power planning with solar, and it is a mistake to think what works in those locations with solar will work here with our climate as to electric power generation system reliability.

Al Warner
Fri, 09/27/2019 - 1:38pm

“Everybody should be really proud that they have two utilities in the state that are moving very aggressively on renewable energy,” said Lauer, the DTE Electric president. Just meeting the trivial, legislated mandate of 15% renewables by 2021 is not aggressive. Discouraging roof top solar by extending the pay back by 5 years is not aggressive. Continuing to rely on the biggest coal fired power plants in the US for the next 10 years is not aggressive.