PORT SHELDON TWP. — Consumers Energy, Michigan’s largest electric company, announced a plan last week to close its coal power plants by 2025 and source nearly all its energy from “clean” sources by 2040.
The timeline, if approved by the Michigan Public Service Commission, would move up the closure of the J.H. Campbell Generating Plant in Port Sheldon Township by 15 years.
While environmental activists are pleased with Consumers’ announcement, local officials are adjusting to a timeline which will be a major change for the community. The plant is the largest source of tax revenue for Port Sheldon Township and the Grand Haven Area Public School District.
Those tax payments will not disappear completely and the property where the plant sits at 17000 Croswell St. will remain valuable, but officials will need to begin planning for the repercussions.
“It took us by quite a surprise,” Port Sheldon Township Supervisor Howard Baumann said of Consumers’ announcement. “Just three years ago we were meeting with them, and they were looking at closing Units 1 and 2 in 2031 and Unit 3 even later than that.”
The plant makes up nearly 30 percent of the township’s tax base, Baumann said.
It also employs 310 workers.
Consumers said it plans to work with plant employees to find other jobs within the company and work with area leaders to mitigate the effect of the closure.
“As we have done with previous coal plant closures, we will continue to exercise care with both our co-workers and communities as we transition through plant closure and retirement once the Michigan Public Service Commission gives us a final order on the filing,” the company’s West Michigan spokesman Joshua Paciorek said in an email.
“We’ll also support Port Sheldon Township (Campbell), Hampton Township (Karn) and those communities and their respective regions by re-imagining the local economic landscapes after the plants are retired.”
The township and Ottawa County have been discussing redevelopment possibilities for years.
“We have been, for a long time, looking at the potential use for a continuation of the trailway along Pigeon Creek and Pigeon River to Lake Michigan,” said Roger Bergman, chair of the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners. Bergman represents parts of Grand Haven Township and the city of Grand Haven, Spring Lake Township and the city of Ferrysburg.
“Long term, we’re thinking in terms of how we can use the property for the public to have access to the waterfront area.”
Consumers is the county’s largest taxpayer, with a total assessed valuation of $486.5 million, 4.1 percent of the county’s total assessed value, according to 2019 figures. That includes Consumers’ Campbell power plant and the company’s Zeeland Generating Station.
Bergman said the county has also been looking at which parts of land could become housing or other private development to restore some of the lost tax base.
“Consumers is a pretty good size chunk of Grand Haven (Area) Public Schools’ budget,” Bergman said. He represents parts of Grand Haven Township and the city of Grand Haven, Spring Lake Township and the city of Ferrysburg.
Township and county leadership were encouraged by the energy company’s outreach in the past and its promise to work with them on redevelopment plans.
“Consumers Energy has been a very good corporate citizen,” Bergman said. “They have put their best foot forward in trying to help us look at the future and what that might mean.”
HBPW also affected
Holland Board of Public Works will also feel the ripples of the retirement of Unit 3, in which the city-owned utility has a life-of-plant contract for 11 megawatts of power. Unit 3 was previously scheduled to retire in 2040.
HBPW and nine other public utilities bought stakes in Unit 3 of the coal-fired power plant in 1979 through the Michigan Public Power Agency, a joint action agency that facilitates power buys for Michigan’s publicly owned utilities. MPPA has about 5 percent ownership in Campbell Unit 3.
The news of the Campbell plant closure was welcomed by climate activist Laura Judge, who said she hopes it spurs more investment in renewable energy by the Holland Board of Public Works.
“While the Consumer’s Energy announcement is a very lucky and welcome break for Holland in the shorter term, they should start now to aggressively plan to totally transition away from natural gas and toward a carbon-free, net-zero goal for 2050 and half their carbon dioxide emissions from 2030 to 2040,” she said.
When the Campbell plant closes, it will leave one remaining coal plant in the city’s portfolio of energy sources: DTE’s Belle River Power Plant. HBPW has an ownership stake in Belle River’s Units 1 and 2 for 36 megawatts of power through the MPPA.
“The opening of Holland Energy Park in 2017 was a big step away from coal and toward a cleaner future,” said Peter Boogaart, a member of the Holland chapter of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby.
“Nevertheless, the HBPW’s portfolio still contained coal through its legacy contracts with Campbell and Belle Isle. The closing of the Campbell facility is another step in the right direction and a major assist in meeting our Community Energy Plan goal.”
“Given the rapidity with which Consumers Energy moved to drop its coal fired-power production, one has to wonder if the market pressure just shifted to DTE. Will DTE close the Bell Isle plant ahead of the announced 2030 closing date? If DTE moves early, the HBPW will need a plan to replace that capacity, too.”
The city-owned utility meets the majority of its energy needs through the natural-gas-powered Holland Energy Park. Natural gas burning releases about half of the carbon emissions that coal does, though Boogaart and other Holland climate activists would like to see Holland end all use of fossil fuels.
About 15 percent of Holland’s power comes from renewable sources such as landfill gas, wind and, as of December, solar. The city also recently approved two new contracts for additional solar power.
Consumers, which serves more than 100,000 customers in Ottawa County, said in the news conference the transition to clean energy would save customers $650 million by 2040 compared to their current trajectory.
The energy company said it would use its existing natural gas plants, including the plant in Zeeland, and buy four additional natural gas plants elsewhere in Michigan to continue to meet power demand during the transition away from coal.