Energy

Hundreds Of Workers Impacted As Michigan Coal Plant Braces For Closure

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Jason Hopkins Immigration and politics reporter
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  • Michigan’s largest utility company will close one of its coal-fired plants
  • The closure is related to a campaign funded by environmental activist Tom Steyer
  • Around 300 workers will be impacted

Michigan’s largest utility company announced plans to shut down another one of its coal-fired plants, the latest sign of the coal industry’s struggle as it faces competition from alternative energy, strict regulations and well-funded campaigns that seek its demise.

Consumers Energy, a Michigan-based utility, revealed more details of its plan to dramatically increase its renewable portfolio. More notably, the regional power provider will be closing down coal units one and two of the Karn Generating Complex — located in Bay County — by 2023.

The decision comes just two years after Consumers shuttered another coal plant right next door to the Karn facility. The moves are part of Consumer’s pledge to slash carbon emissions by 80 percent and eliminate coal-generated electricity entirely by 2040.

Environmentalist groups hailed the decision. Many of them had supported government mandates to increase Michigan’s renewable energy portfolio.

“Consumers Energy is taking a step in the right direction by setting a retirement date for the Karn coal-fired power plant and apparently planning to replace that plant with clean energy. It is way past time for this antiquated technology and dirty fossil fuel to go,” the director of Michigan’s Sierra Club, Regina Strong, said in a statement.

Tom Steyer, an environmental activist who has spent millions pushing renewable mandates across the country, also celebrated the plan, saying it “is a win for the people of Michigan.” Steyer added that “Michigan has become a national example of how consumers, public interest advocates and energy companies can work together to find real solutions to combat climate change.”

Steyer bankrolled the grassroots campaign that pressured Michigan utilities to increase their renewables.

NextGen Climate Action — an environmentalist organization Steyer founded and funds — spent more than $1.8 million in direct and in-kind contributions to Clean Energy, Healthy Michigan, a ballot committee that was launched to mandate at least 30 percent of a utility’s electricity sales come from renewables by 2030. Clean Energy, Healthy Michigan sought to collect enough signatures to bring the proposal to the state legislature.

Under pressure by the near $2 million campaign, Consumers Energy and DTE Energy — the state’s two largest utilities — agreed in May to a renewable energy goal of 25 percent in exchange for the Steyer-backed campaign to cease operations.

Reaching this goal will require a major transition for Michigan electricity providers. The current state mandate is just a 15 percent renewable rate by the end of 2021. To reach the higher target, coal will have to be pushed out in lieu of cleaner sources of energy. Such a policy is hailed by environmental advocates, but met with trepidation by Americans whose livelihoods are dependent on coal.

Around 300 workers will be impacted by the closure of the Karn coal plant. It’s not immediately clear what is in place for those currently working at the soon-to-be defunct facility.

“We’re committed to treating our hard-working workers at the plants with respect and dignity during the transition,” Consumers Energy’s senior public information director, Brian Wheeler, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “We have developed plans to ensure the safe, reliable and productive operation of the Karn complex through 2023, while working to transition employees to other locations within the company.”

Wheeler also made clear that Steyer’s campaign did not impact the utility’s decision. Consumers outlined their longterm goals back in February, which included the eventual retirement of Karn.

In fact, Karn’s imminent retirement is just the latest in a string of coal plant closures by Consumers. The company shut down seven of its oldest coal-fired plants — referred to by locals as the “Classic Seven” — in 2016. The retirements are all part of Consumer’s goal to reduce its carbon emissions.

In Michigan, numerous coal plants have shuttered in recent years and more retirements are on the horizon. DTE will retire all of  its coal-fired plants by 2050 — a decade after Consumer’s goal. Several years ago, coal-fired plants provided over 50 percent of the state’s electricity generation. That rate plummeted last year to 37 percent, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Michigan is emblematic of the U.S. coal industry as a whole.

There were 580 coal plants across the U.S. in 2010, generating 45 percent of the country’s electricity. Eight years later, less than 350 plants remain in operation, only accounting for 30 percent of total electricity production. This trend will only continue. At least another 40 coal plants are expected to shut down or scale back capacity by 2025.

The quickly evolving energy industry has prompted the Trump administration to take action. President Donald Trump outlined a plan that would save a list of at-risk coal and nuclear plants from shutting down prematurely until the government can better evaluate the situation. (RELATED: Germany Won’t Meet Its Global Warming Targets Despite Spending $200 Billion On Green Energy)

“As we see more and more coal fired power prematurely retire, we may pass a reliability and resiliency crisis point of no return – which speaks to the current debate over the potential for action from the government to support baseload power. Those who take comfort in studies of yesterday’s grid performance ignore today’s realities: 12,000 MW of coal-fired power is expected to retire this year. That’s enough to power 8 million homes,” said National Mining Association spokeswoman Ashley Burke in a statement to TheDCNF.

Burke said that a plan needs to be in place to protect “reliable, affordable” energy and commended the Trump administration for taking steps to address the situation.

“Despite efforts from anti-coal activists, the world wants and needs coal. It’s reliable, affordable, abundant and today’s technologies address many of yesterday’s emissions concerns,” Burke added

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