Michigan State University: coal free since right about now

Michigan State University said April 12 that it is no longer burning coal in its on-campus power plant, a move that is significantly reducing emissions from the plant as well as advancing the university’s Energy Transition Plan.

MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon made the announcement during a live webcast, saying: “This is a critical step toward our university reducing its environmental impact and furthering the goals of the campus Energy Transition Plan. One of our greatest challenges is how to reliably meet the university’s growing energy needs. This will help us meet those needs in a more sustainable fashion.”

Since 2009-2010, MSU has decreased greenhouse gas emissions by more than 25%. By completing the switch from coal to all natural gas, the university can surpass its 2015 greenhouse gas reduction target of 30%. Using natural gas instead of coal to power the campus results in a reduction in CO2 emissions of about 32.4%.

Adopted in 2012, MSU’s Energy Transition Plan provides a framework for university energy decisions as it continues to move forward in meeting its needs while keeping a close eye on costs and environmental impacts. The ultimate vision – through conservation, research and education – is to create an environment in which the university is powered by 100% renewable energy.

The campus power plant is going beyond just using natural gas, reducing CO2 emissions further by installing more efficient equipment and optimizing the campus electrical and steam production process. Through a cooperative agreement, campus faculty and staff, together with private researchers, are demonstrating greenhouse gas capture technology using algae at the campus power plant.

Consumers Energy, which is in the process of shutting seven of its old coal units, in an April 12 statement of its own congratulated Michigan State University on its transition from coal to natural gas.

“Michigan is at a historic time, making the transition from coal to cleaner forms of energy. We are pleased to play a role in Michigan State University’s transition, providing the natural gas that will fuel the T.B. Simon Power Plant,” said Garrick Rochow, Consumers Energy’s vice president and chief customer officer.

Consumers Energy said it has been taking other steps to meet MSU’s long-term energy needs:

  • Building the new Spartan Substation that will provide backup power to the campus when it goes into service later this year. It ultimately will power the university’s Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, which is under construction.
  • Through its energy efficiency programs, Consumers Energy has provided MSU with rebates worth over $1 million toward projects that reduce energy use.
  • MSU and Consumers Energy are working together on a two-year pilot program to explore how storage batteries can be used to improve system reliability.

“Consumers Energy’s relationship with Michigan State University represents the type of collaboration we do every day with businesses large and small across Michigan,” Rochow said. “We also share an interest in finding new solutions to our state’s energy needs, to develop new energy sources and help people use power more efficiently.”

Consumers Energy noted that the week of April 11 it is retiring its seven oldest coal units, reducing the company’s carbon footprint by 25% and air emissions by 40%. The seven units are among 25 that are closing in Michigan by 2020, underscoring the need for a new state energy policy to ensure that Michigan can meet its future energy needs, said the utility. The timing of the unit closures is based on the April 16 compliance deadline under a one-year extension of the federal Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

The “Classic Seven” coal units targeted for shutdown this month are:

  • J.C. Weadock Unit 7 (151 MW nameplate);
  • J.C. Weadock Unit 8 (151 MW nameplate);
  • B.C. Cobb Unit 4 (156 MW nameplate);
  • B.C. Cobb Unit 5 (156 MW nameplate);
  • J.R. Whiting Unit 1 (101.2 MW nameplate);
  • J.R. Whiting Unit 2 (101.5 MW nameplate); and
  • J.R. Whiting Unit 3 (124 MW nameplate).

Consumers Energy, Michigan’s largest utility, is the principal subsidiary of CMS Energy (NYSE: CMS), providing natural gas and electricity to 6.7 million of the state’s 10 million residents in all 68 Lower Peninsula counties.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.