MPSC approves certification of DTE natural gas plant in St. Clair County, Michigan

Published on April 30, 2018 by Chris Galford

© Shutterstock

A proposal for a natural gas facility DTE Electric Co. seeks to build in St. Clair County, Mich., as a replacement for aging coal plants was approved by the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) last week.

Under the Commission’s authorization, DTE will be able to recoup up to $951.8 million for construction of an 1,100 megawatt (MW) plant on the existing Belle River Power Plant site. The authorization followed an open hearing process that brought in input from numerous sources, and in the end, determined that the natural gas plant was the most reasonable and prudent means for DTE to address its future energy needs.

“DTE Electric’s recent and planned investments in energy waste reduction, renewable energy and energy storage, when coupled with this highly efficient gas plant, demonstrate that Michigan is a great example of an ‘all of the above’ strategy to meet our energy needs in a reliable, affordable manner that protects the environment,” Sally Talberg, chairman of the MPSC, said.
“The Commission is granting certificates of need for DTE Electric’s proposed 1,100 MW combined cycle natural gas plant to replace coal plants closing in the early 2020s.”

Yet opponents, which include the PowerUP Michigan coalition of clean energy and public health advocates, Vote Solar, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC), denounced the decision, saying that it flies against evidence that renewable energy sources would cost DTE Energy customers less than a new gas plant. In fact, they estimated savings between $339 million and $1.2 billion.

Despite these concerns, the MPSC stated that DTE provided a reasonable forecast of projected load growth and a near-term need for power, and that, although there was a thorough review of alternatives, the proposed plant provided the most prudent option in terms of cost, timing, operational performance and reliability. DTE will be required to provide the Commission with an analysis of how upcoming coal plant retirements and this new addition will affect customer rates over the next 10 years.

Construction is expected to begin in the spring of 2019. The plant should be semi-operational in the spring of 2022.