Wind turbines near the town of Pigeon in Huron County, Michigan. Credit: Dennis Pennington, Michigan State University Extension via Creative Commons

DTE Energy will depend almost entirely on wind energy to meet its state renewable energy requirements between now and 2021.

In filings with state regulators Friday, the utility said it plans to add roughly 700 megawatts of new wind generation by 2021 to comply with a 15 percent renewable energy standard adopted in 2016. DTE also plans to build an another 300 MW of wind in 2020 to meet demand for renewable energy from large customers. Details of that voluntary program have not yet been filed with state regulators.

Dave Harwood, DTE’s director of renewable energy, says wind is the “least-cost renewable energy solution” at this point, but that the company is open to solar if prices continue to drop. DTE plans to add 15 MW of solar over the next three years, increasing its solar capacity by nearly 25 percent.

“We certainly see the possibility of solar playing a much bigger role in our future projects,” Harwood said. “One of the benefits of not committing too many years in advance is the ability to wait and see whichever is most economic at the time.”

The company’s 2018 renewable energy plan is required under 2016 energy legislation. Harwood says the company has no plans to buy additional renewable generation from independent, third-party developers, which has drawn criticism by some clean energy advocates. Before the 2016 law, utilities were required to source 50 percent of their renewable portfolio from independent producers.

Harwood says DTE has a long-term plan to go beyond a 15 percent renewable portfolio in order to meet the company’s goal of reducing carbon emissions at least 80 percent by 2050. However, “that’s not included in this plan.”

The filing is essentially a roadmap subject to Michigan Public Service Commission approval. Individual projects will then be subject to MPSC approval. DTE says the plan will spur $1.7 billion in investments statewide and, if approved, roughly double its renewable portfolio from 1,000 MW to 2,000 MW. Harwood also said the utility is also in the “early stages” of a battery storage pilot program.

Wind challenges

DTE’s plans come as wind energy faces mounting opposition and legal challenges in parts of the state, particularly the Thumb region of the Lower Peninsula. The first 330 MW of DTE’s plan will come from the company’s Pine River and Polaris projects in central Michigan. Those projects have received local approval and are set to come online next year.

Locations for the additional 675 MW of generation have not been determined. DTE is reportedly in the early stages of compiling lease agreements for a wind project in southern Michigan.

Local opposition — particularly in places that feel there is already a saturation of turbines — “is a concern,” Harwood said. “But we’ve been developing wind projects in Michigan for almost 10 years now. Based on that experience, we know wind projects can be zoned in Michigan in a way that balances private property rights and community interest. A number of communities in the state remain positive towards wind. We’ll continue to work with communities.”

Meanwhile, the company also faces criticism about its near-term plan to build a $1 billion, 1,100 MW natural gas plant to replace a portion of its aging coal fleet. Advocates say renewables and energy efficiency are a better deal for ratepayers.

While DTE’s near-term renewables plan conforms to state requirements, Harwood said the company “absolutely” has plans for “significantly more renewables beyond 2022.”

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Andy Balaskovitz

Andy compiles the Midwest Energy News digest and was a journalism fellow for Midwest Energy News from 2014-2020. He is managing editor of MiBiz in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and was formerly a reporter and editor at City Pulse, Lansing’s alternative newsweekly.