How Michigan residents are talking about their utility's climate plan
When will the state's largest utility shut down its heavily-polluting coal plant?
(Monroe Coal Plant, Michigan)
“As someone with lifelong asthma and a mother of people with asthma, I celebrate at the close of every dirty coal-burning plant.”
It’s a strong statement, but I didn’t find it on a TV ad, a Facebook comment or even a news article. Instead, it was among dozens of comments filed to an official regulatory docket.
This year, DTE Electric, one of the major investor-owned utilities in Michigan, will be presenting an important case Michigan’s utility regulator, MPSC. Known as an integrated resource plan, these plans describe how serve their customers and with what kinds of energy.
Utilities submit the plans, and it’s up to the regulator to approve or push for changes. DTE is the largest utility in Michigan and it operates one of the heaviest power plant emitters of greenhouse gas in the country Monroe coal plant, on the shores of Lake Erie, south of Detroit. They also have a history of quietly or even secretly supporting groups arguing against climate action.
There’s a lot of officially-involved parties taking part in this resource plan case — environmental orgs, unions, business coalitions, electricity buyers, utility customer watchdog groups, etc. It’s worth it for them to be involved: another major Michigan utility, Consumers Energy, settled with intervenors to end all coal use for power production by 2025, Planet Detroit reports.
But the Michigan Public Service Commission is also allowing for residents who don’t have official “intervenor” status to offer comments to the docket. This genre of civic involvement may not be the loudest language of climate action, but it’s available to a very wide range of people. It’s both bureaucratic to figure out and easy to add.
When talking about adding your voice to a cause, most Americans understand a petition and understand the public meeting. The public meeting is especially alive in our imaginations because of the examples we’ve consumed it from near or far away: seeing the people you are cheering on or think are crazy town bananas speak in front of a city council or a school board and have two minutes or so to say their peace. It’s inspiring, it’s humorous, it’s often that guy who has “more of a comment than a question”.
But you don’t have to be a good public speaker or an officially-allowed expert to be part of the discussion. I wanted to excerpt some of the comments from the official MPSC docket to get a taste of what people who are not intervenors are saying. Do I think these comments will be the make or break decision on DTE’s plan? No, but they helpfully remove most of the jargon to get at what residents particularly care about in these highly-technical cases, what’s being fought over, and a sense of the wider scope of public opinion. That will inform the atmosphere in which the regulators make their decision.
(NB: I’ve deliberated avoided repeated language that clearly came from an environmental advocacy group petition site, they are clearly from real people but not in “their own words” )
“I am concerned that DTE has not tried hard enough to reduce our use of fossil fuels in the creation of electricity….Ignoring the facts, DTE has dragged their feet. Today, I do believe DTE acknowledges the problem and is working to shift from fossil fuels - but not aggressively enough. Please press DTE to eliminate all coal use by 2030 or sooner if feasible. Please press DTE to eliminate all fossil fuels by 2035.”
- Rob Goedert, Ferndale
“Though I was unable to attend DTE’s public hearing regarding their long-term energy plan, I wanted to share my thoughts as a life-long Michigan resident and someone who cares deeply about the climate crisis. To put it simply: DTE’s current plan does not in any way reflect the environmental demands of the 21st century, state-wide legislation, nor the public health of Michigan communities.”
- Maria Viscomi, Dearborn Heights
I attended the three hours of MPSC’s public hearing this past Monday and found myself agreeing with the many speakers who urged that DTE be required to move up its schedule for retirement of its remaining coal-burning units and move faster on development of renewable energy. The next twenty years are a make-or-break time for addressing climate change. I think one of the speakers said that we need to leave nothing on the field over the next 20 years. I agree, but I don’t get that same sense of urgency from the plan.
- Charles Altman, Royal Oak
DTE Energy has relied on burning air polluting coal for too long, and stood in the way of local clean energy solutions, like community solar and rooftop solar. To encourage expansion, DTE should make the solar rate one-to-one. Whatever energy is generated from community and rooftop solar should receive equal credit in return.
- Steven A. Bush, Plymouth
I believe most Michiganders desire affordable and reliable energy. The current DTE blueprint is reasonable and should be approved.Many citizens may not be aware of the push by environmentalist to shorten timelines.. I believe they have little regard for low cost and abundant availability of electricity to heat our homes ,especially in winter.. As an electrical consumer , coal should always be in the mix with other energy sources long term
- John Stokes, Warren
The MPSC needs to lean on DTE to create a long term energy plan that is exemplary for the midwest and the rest of the country, not one that resembles an energy plan from the 1950s. We want clean, renewable energy as soon as possible….As someone with lifelong asthma and a mother of people with asthma, I celebrate at the close of every dirty coal-burning plant.
- Patricia Pennell, Caledonia
A bit of housekeeping
In 2023, I’ll be trying out different structures for this newsletter, in part to keep it sustainable to write every week. You can support that effort by becoming a paid member. I’ll also be offering some of the most in-depth Resource of the Month editions from last year as paid guides. But members will get them all at once as a perk of supporting the newsletter.
I’ll continue publishing three editions a month for all subscribers. Getting feedback, story ideas and even seeing what stories people are most interested in reading has been the best part of writing this newsletter — keep it coming!
For members, this month I’ll be trying out a new feature: early access to a book chapter and optional discussion-through-annotating through an app called Threadable. (Credit to Colleen Hagerty of the fantastic My World’s on Fire for introducing me to it). Members will see more details at the end of the month.
Now back to the good stuff.
More Local Climate Action Stories:
- The great electrician shortage and what it means for climate action: I read this literally as a contractor installed a home electric car charger and thanked my lucky stars.
- Boston Globe: We drove around New England looking for EV chargers (and the best doughnuts). Related: Why a heat pump helps an electric car
- New York banned cryptocurrency mining using new fossil fuel projects for two years. Could it be a model for other states?
- The EPA is helping schools purchase clean-energy school buses, but some districts have been blocked from participating
- Texas’ agriculture agency says climate change threatens the state’s food supply
- In dual quest to reduce housing costs and lower climate emissions, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis eyes shift away from sprawl and toward density
- An accessible look at some of the health impacts from climate change and how to protect your health(this is focused on Colorado, but is applicable to many places)