Bay County moves to cleaner energy with the proposed decommissioning of Karn Plant in 2023

Energy production is not often associated with the Great Lakes Bay Region but that’s changing. Route Bay City and our sister publication, Catalyst Midland, are featuring renewable energy projects that are powering our region.

Bay County stands to play an important role in a landmark plan unveiled by Consumers Energy this June, transforming the county from a hub of coal-based power to a partner in cleaner energy sooner than was expected.

Madison Jarmon, Community Affairs Manager for Consumers Energy, says Consumers is proud to set an industry standard and lead the way in raising the bar for more sustainable, clean energy in the region, the state, and even the nation. The utility company’s recent plan proposes a date of 2025 for the retirement of all coal-fired power plants, a change that will “improve air quality, cut greenhouse gas emissions and save water,” according to the 2021 Clear Energy Plan published in June. This plan would also put our state on course to achieve net zero emissions by 2040.

Consumers Energy submitted its 2021 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) in June, seeking approval for a more rapid end to coal use. The Michigan Public Service Commission takes about a year to review the plan and give critiques and guidance, as needed, and then the process is repeated every three years.

An important piece to that puzzle will be the decommissioning of the remaining Karn coal-fired plants in Hampton Township. While this was set to take place in 2023 (units 1 and 2) and 2031 (units 3 and 4) based on the 2018 IRP, recent plans have proposed to move that date up to 2023 for all units.  The plan also hopes to decommission the JC Campbell coal units 1, 2, and 3, located in West Olive, Michigan, by 2025, and to purchase four additional existing natural gas plants around the state. This all comes following the decommissioning of the coal-fired Weadock Plant in 2016 in Hampton Township and its subsequent demolition in 2020.

“Accelerating retirements of our remaining coal-fired power plants will help Michigan’s environment for decades to come, reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by more than 63 million tons - that’s the equivalent of removing 12.4 million passenger vehicles from the road for one year. It will also dramatically reduce emissions by criteria pollutants such as sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NO x), mercury and particulate matter. Lastly, it avoids using more than 220 billion gallons of water usage from our system each year and more than 3 billion cubic yards of coal ash waste from our system,” explains Jarmon.

The decision to decommission Karn sooner than planned was not one made lightly, says Jarmon. The surrounding community was and continues to be considered, as Consumers is an important part of the tax revenue and employment for Hampton Township. “We are going to work closely with them to make sure they can balance their budgets and that we won’t be leaving them empty-handed. We will work closely with Bay Future and the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce to make sure that we can reimagine their economic landscape.”

“The hope is that somebody else can come into our property and produce the same tax revenue that we did. The future should be bright for Hampton Township and Bay County,” Jarmon says. “We aren’t necessarily leaving, because we hope to have some renewable energy sources. And we will have to monitor the property for at least 30 years after we close it down.”

Hampton Township officials are working on an economic development plan for the community.

Consumers also remains committed to its Bay County employees, hoping to find a job within the company for anyone who wants one.

As Consumers Energy moves away from coal, it will increase the use of both solar power and natural gas in the area. Jarmon says, “In Bay County, we hope to be able to look into renewable energy for our properties. By 2040, more than 60% of our electric capacity will come from clean, renewable sources. We’ve already begun tapping more solar power and plan to add nearly 8,000 megawatts by 2040.”

Currently in the state, Consumers’ energy sources are varied, including renewable energy, like solar and wind, coal, nuclear, and natural gas, with the latter making up the largest percentage at 31%. Jarmon expects that percentage to rise by 2025 with the proposed purchase of the natural gas plants.

While many long-time coal users are nervous about making the change, Jarmon explains that natural gas is stable, like coal, and that it can be even more readily available during peak times. With natural gas, the energy can be called on instantaneously, an advantage over coal-fired plants. “Our plan creates price stability, and by using natural gas as a fuel source to generate baseload power we will save customers about $650 million through 2040 compared to our current plan.”

Customers play an important role in making the plan successful and affordable. Following summer peak rates and reducing energy usage, installing smart thermostats, setting timers, or signing up for money-saving programs are all ways that customers can assist in keeping prices low and energy available.

Jarmon emphasizes the fact that while change may not be easy in Bay County initially, it will provide many long-lasting benefits for the community and the environment. “We (Consumers Energy) are doing what’s right, not what is required or politically popular to help protect our environment here in Michigan.”