DTE Energy vows ‘net zero’ natural gas by 2050

DTE Energy plans to retire its 1,429-megawatt St. Clair coal-fired power plant as part of the utility’s plan to slash carbon dioxide emissions in the coming decades. (Bridge file photo by Jim Malewitz)

“We’re going to keep moving the ball on this and getting more and more aggressive," said DTE Energy CEO Jerry Norcia (Courtesy of DTE Energy)

DTE Energy’s natural gas business will achieve “net zero” emissions by 2050, the company announced today.

The move, which DTE officials say will reduce greenhouse gas emissions within its 1.3 million-customer natural gas business by more than 6 million metric tons a year, comes months after the company vowed that its electric company will go net zero by 2050. It also comes in the wake of controversy over DTE’s long-term vision for meeting its electricity customers’ energy needs.

DTE officials said their announcement Wednesday underscores the company’s commitment to reducing its carbon footprint. Bridge discussed the plan with the company’s CEO, Jerry Norcia. Here are four takeaways from the conversation. 

Why does DTE’s “net zero” goal matter?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had said global greenhouse gas emissions must decline to net zero by 2050 to limit average human-caused global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius — a target intended to limit the severity of climate change dangers such as species extinction, sea level rise, extreme weather and crop failures.

As a major greenhouse gas emitter, the energy sector is a prime target for emissions reductions to achieve climate goals.

Norcia said DTE’s gas company will achieve its net zero goal with a combination of efficiency measures within its operations and the operations of its suppliers, and efforts to promote more efficient natural gas usage within customers’ homes while asking customers to buy into a program that will allow them to offset their emissions. 

“Energy efficiency is obviously the most economic way to drive reductions in carbon,” Norcia said, “because if you don’t use the product, you’ve got less emissions.”

How will DTE reach the net zero goal?

The company is taking a three-pronged approach. 

First, it will require its natural gas suppliers to cut their emissions by reducing methane losses that happen while drilling for gas, sealing small “whisper leaks” that can add up to large emissions, and taking other actions. Ultimately, suppliers must join DTE in operating at net zero by 2050, Norcia said. 

In-house, DTE’s natural gas company will reduce its own emissions through “operational improvements” such as replacing old, leaky pipes that deliver its gas to customers, upgrading engines at its pumping stations to increase their efficiency, and purchasing “renewable gas” and purchasing carbon offsets, such as guarantees from forestry companies that they will wait longer than usual to cut down trees.

Finally, DTE will encourage its customers to reduce their own emissions by promoting efficiency through home energy audits, rebates and other incentives. DTE will also allow gas customers to increase their monthly gas bill to pay for renewable natural gas (gas made from decomposed organic matter such as landfill waste) and carbon credits

Norcia called it “the most ambitious set of goals in America for a gas company” and said he hopes DTE’s leadership will encourage other gas providers to follow suit. 

How much will consumers pay to participate in the program?

Residential customers who opt to pay for carbon offsets can pay as little as $4 per month to offset their footprint by 25 percent, or up to $16 to completely offset their footprint.

DTE has made several progressively more ambitious vows in the past two years about plans to reduce its carbon footprint. Can we expect more to come? 

Yes, Norcia said, but it’s too early to tell exactly how that will look. 

The company’s planned new natural gas plant can be converted to run on hydrogen, he said. And eventually the company could invest in carbon capture — a process that traps carbon emissions and keeps them out of the atmosphere.

For now, “we’re not going to take on unproven technology that’s not prudent for us,” Norcia said.

But it’s clear that energy markets are changing — the cost of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind is plummeting, for example — and Norcia said DTE and other energy companies are closely tracking the trend toward more affordable renewable energy.

“We’re going to keep moving the ball on this and getting more and more aggressive,” he said.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Stephen C Brown
Wed, 06/24/2020 - 9:24am

I'm skeptical. For these proposed strategies, the numbers don't come close to adding up. The only interesting idea here is perhaps using solar/wind to generate hydrogen, then combust that instead of natural gas. There isn't enough "renewable" biogas, or credits, to get carbon neutral with the rest of these strategies. Methane is over, the sooner the better.

Wed, 06/24/2020 - 11:29am

Nice puff piece for DTE. DTE is a monopoly and Goal #1 is to maintain that monopoly. At all costs. Sad to see The Bridge enabling this corporate monopoly to keep its grip on our energy.

Al Warner
Wed, 06/24/2020 - 11:42am

Agreed. Quit talking about the pittance that renewable biogas represents ( I know, you've invested in that). Start talking about incentives for replacing nat gas forced air furnaces with electric heat pumps. Quit talking about 2050 and start talking about 2030 when we blow by the 1.5oC global warming goal.

Thu, 06/25/2020 - 2:14pm

Not to mention geothermal.

Wed, 06/24/2020 - 11:58am

1) I don't believe DTE, and neither should anyone who has been paying attention to America's electrical grid for the last forty years. Our generating capability is owned by some of the most politically conservative and most ecologically destructive groups who are chasing dollars over the cliff of mass extinction

2) Even if I did believe DTE, their goal is 20 years too late. We've seen summer temperatures in the Arctic circle in the last few days that weren't supposed to happen for another decade. Our time grows short, and these ghouls are planning to rake in another three decades of profit while the world burns.
Stop publishing these corporate puff pieces, and start publishing more pushback from engineers and environmentalists about alternative energy systems and mitigation efforts

Thu, 06/25/2020 - 8:02am

Please supply your evidence or sources for #1 …. other than Mother Jones or such.

Thu, 06/25/2020 - 2:16pm

Check out the saturation of our state and dangerously high water levels. This is in large part because we don't have enough winter ice on the great lakes.

Jeff Rodgers
Wed, 06/24/2020 - 3:10pm

Gross FRAUD...NG use and emissions are 87Xs worse than Co2, burning NG releases No2 400 Xs worse than Co2...you can NOT stop methane leaks from OnG production and transport. Offsets are complete fraud, no human can ever measure and all is based on theoretical and hypothetical projects. DTE just got added to my list of global lawsuits..see ya soon

Ronald VanAtta
Wed, 06/24/2020 - 3:43pm

Who knew that for the measly sum of $16.00 I won't leave a carbon footprint while heating my house. Just think if we had started this in the fifties we would be freezing by now.

Concerned that ...
Wed, 06/24/2020 - 8:45pm

DTE just cannot figure out how to spell r-e-n-e-w-a-b-l-l-e-s so they’re just going to poison us up to and beyond 2050.

The evidence is clearly in; natural gas combustion and its fine particulate exhaust kill people and the planet, and that DTE is full of dunces.

If you work there, you shouldn’t.

And Bridge - seriously - this should have been caught in editing and jettisoned. The favorable positioning and the puff quotes? This is really, really old school pandering at its best. Shame on you.

Fingers crossed
Thu, 06/25/2020 - 2:12pm

Too little, too late. Hope I live to see the day... If we vote out the Republicans and pass campaign finance laws, maybe we can do it sooner, but I digress.