A pair of recent developments highlight the changes taking place in Michigan’s electrical grid. First, a fire in a coal generation unit shut down DTE’s St. Clair Power Plant in East China Township. There are six turbine units in the plant.
The 63-year-old coal-fired power plant was already scheduled to be retired between 2020 and 2023, along with two other outdated coal-fired plants. Together these plants account for 25 percent of the DTE’s current capacity. The fire did not result in any power outages, according to DTE, nor will the fire impact service to customers or impact the state’s power needs. The St. Clair plant had a capacity factor of only 32 percent.
On the other end of the state, Cliffs Natural Resources announced that its Tilden mine has signed a 20-year power purchase agreement with WEC Energy Resources, which will result in the construction of two new natural gas-fired power plants in the Upper Peninsula. These new plants, totaling 170 MW and are expected to commence operations in 2019, are anticipated to address the energy situation in the UP, where the Presque Isle Power Plant continues to run under System Support Resource (SSR) requirements.
In this dynamic context, the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) heard a presentation recently on “Modernizing the Grid for a Low-Carbon Future.” Dr. Bryan Hannegan, Associate Laboratory Director for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), highlighted the need to modernize the grid by focusing increased grid security, stability after extreme events, accommodating a changing supply mix, opening up to new markets, and the changing economics of various generation technologies, specifically the dropping prices and increased capacity of utility scale wind, utility scale solar and distributed generation. NREL is the primary laboratory funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), researching and developing advanced energy technologies and practices. Each step is focused on a national goal of having a grid that’s resilient, reliable, flexible, secure, sustainable and affordable.