Another major utility is accelerating its transition to renewables

Michigan’s DTE Energy has announced a plan to spend $11 billion on clean energy construction and close its remaining coal plants sooner.
By Julian Spector

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A shot of the exterior of a large office building with a sign that says DTE Energy
DTE Energy's headquarters in Detroit, Michigan (Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)

DTE Energy, one of Michigan’s largest utilities, pledged to build far more renewable energy as part of a long-term plan finalized Wednesday.

The 20-year plan would spend $11 billion on clean energy construction in Michigan and hasten the closure of DTE’s remaining coal plants. Notably, the utility proposal won support from a cohort of 21 different community groups spanning the environmental, labor, energy and business domains. The resulting settlement agreement” still needs to be approved by state utility regulators, but that broad public buy-in bodes well for its chances.

The Michigan utility, which serves electricity to 2.3 million customers, is the latest example of how investor-owned utilities are embracing more rapid clean-energy adoption thanks to falling costs and the likelihood of stricter emissions-reduction policies. The federal Inflation Reduction Act makes this shift even more financially attractive for utilities by providing a decade of predictable tax credits for clean energy deployment.

DTE had previously pledged to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, adopting the midcentury timeline that has become standard for the power sector since Xcel Energy led the way in 2018. But around the country, climate hawks, consumer advocates and a growing number of state legislators are pushing for a quicker shift to clean energy, both to avoid locking in new fossil fuel investments and to lower the price of electricity for households.

After winning a legislative trifecta in the 2022 elections, Michigan Democrats introduced an ambitious bill last month to mandate a carbon-free grid by 2035. That policy, which is still being debated in the legislature, would make Michigan one of the most ambitious states for grid decarbonization, as well as the first state to pass a law that aligns with President Biden’s goal of phasing out fossil-fueled power plants by 2035. DTE’s resource planning started two years ago, so it had largely wrapped up by the time the new legislative proposal arrived this summer.

The utility’s new strategy will shutter the 3,400-megawatt Monroe coal plant in 2032, three years ahead of schedule. That move will bring an end to DTE’s use of coal power, which supplied 77 percent of its electricity as of 2005. DTE will also develop 15 gigawatts of in-state renewable power by 2042, balanced by an expansion of energy storage to 780 megawatts by 2030 and 1,800 megawatts by 2042.

Earthjustice attorney Shannon Fisk called the Monroe plant the third-largest climate polluter in the country”; in its next long-term resource plan, DTE will examine closing it even earlier, in 2030.

Since renewables have become so economical relative to fossil fuels, the utility’s accelerated embrace of clean energy will save a considerable amount of money, in addition to reducing emissions.

We are also proud this plan puts our customers first by reducing the future costs of our clean energy transformation by $2.5 billion, while reliably generating cleaner, affordable energy now, and for generations to come,” CEO Jerry Norcia said in a statement.

The resource plan reflects utilities’ growing appetite for a renewables-heavy future. DTE started with wind and solar development, and it now calls itself Michigan’s largest producer of and investor in renewable energy.” After seeing firsthand how the technologies work, the company grew comfortable speeding up the pace of clean energy deployment, which in turn has made it possible to close coal plants ahead of schedule and still ensure a reliable grid.

Should the Michigan government enact a 2035 carbon-free standard, the utility — and all the others in the state — would have to introduce new plans to meet the goal. In other words, DTE may have to ratchet up its clean energy plans yet again in the near future.

Julian Spector is a senior reporter at Canary Media. He reports on batteries, long-duration energy storage, low-carbon hydrogen and clean energy breakthroughs around the world.