Environment Picture

Coal plant denial nixes $77/month rate hike, invites cleaner, cheaper energy options

State regulators deny Wolverine power plant air permit
Michigan residents and businesses will be spared astronomical rate increases after the denial of a permit for the Wolverine Power Supply Cooperative’s proposed new 600-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Rogers City. 

The Michigan Environmental Council (MEC) applauded the decision, announced May 21 by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE). The DNRE denied the permit on the grounds that Wolverine had not demonstrated a need for the plant, nor fulfilled its legal obligation to consider other alternatives. 

A finding from the state Public Service Commission (PSC) staff estimates the new plant would have increased electric rates 59.7%. That would cost the average residential customer an additional $77 per month. 

The PSC determination is vivid evidence supporting contentions that MEC and its allies have been making for years: Coal-fired power plants are costly, dangerous and economically harmful when compared to alternatives, including energy efficiency and renewable power. 

“It’s the 21st century and we have plenty of less expensive and less polluting alternatives than another coal-burning electric plant,” said MEC Energy Program Director David Gard. “It is heartening that the state has committed, in this instance, to examining a broader range of energy options that better serve citizens and protect ratepayers.” 

Such dramatic rate hikes would mirror the situation in another part of Michigan, where new coal plants have resulted in sticker shock for ratepayers. Electricity co-op customers in the western Upper Peninsula are being hit with a 33% increase in electric rates due to $2.3 billion spent on a new coal-fired power plant constructed by WE Energies. 

“In the U.P., and across the nation, ratepayers are discovering that coal is no bargain,” said James Clift, MEC policy director. The decision opens the door to cleaner and less costly energy options that help put Michigan’s manufacturing base back to work.” 

Michigan residents and businesses spent $1.36 billion in 2008 to buy imported coal. That money would be better spent on Michigan manufacturers and companies that build wind turbine components, solar panels and energy-efficient products and systems, according to Clift. 

Gard said that better, more cost-effective alternatives to new coal plants “include greater energy savings through efficiency and more renewable electricity generated right here in the Great Lakes State.” 

Earlier this year, a dozen environmental groups, including MEC, filed comments with the state’s Public Service Commission regarding the Wolverine proposal. The groups raised issues regarding the adequacy of the analysis conducted by Wolverine, including its failure to maximize savings its customers could realize through energy efficiency and renewable energy programs.
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