The Jackson-based utility, which serves 1.8 million customers, released an analysis of its future power demands and how to meet them. It was requested by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, which is considering whether to grant an air quality permit for a new coal burning unit at Consumers' Karn-Weadock complex near Bay City.
"Even using historically low customer demand growth assumptions, it's clear that we'll need to move forward aggressively on energy efficiency, renewable energy expansion and a new clean coal plant to serve customers with reliable, competitively priced electricity in the future," said John Russell, the utility's president and CEO.
Environmental groups opposing the new plant stood by their contention that Michigan can meet its energy requirements without additional coal units.
"We can either move in the direction of a new, clean energy economy and jobs or we can build polluting coal plants that undermine our clean energy job providers," said Cyndi Roper, Clean Water Action's state director.
David Gard, energy program director for the Michigan Environmental Council, said Consumer would "have to make a very good case as to why buying a new coal plant is the best deal for Michigan ratepayers."
"It looks like they're trying to justify a plant we don't need," he added.
Consumers said two-thirds of the growth in demand expected through 2018 could be met by developing renewable energy sources and boosting efficiency. The utility said it won approval from the Michigan Public Service Commission to proceed with new efficiency and renewable source plans as required by the state's 2008 energy law.
Still, Consumers said its analysis showed that a new coal unit "represents the most cost effective, efficient and reliable power resource to serve customers compared to other alternatives."
The utility wants its proposed 930-megawatt coal unit to begin commercial operations in 2017 and says it would replace several older, less efficient plants.
The Public Service Commission, which is providing technical assistance to the DEQ, plans to study the Consumers analysis and prepare a report. The commission said it would give the public until July 5 to comment, although spokesman Gary Kitts said the actual deadline would be July 7 because of the holiday weekend and a state government furlough day.
Consumers' document and the commission's report will be among the information the DEQ will consider before deciding whether to the issue the permit, spokesman Robert McCann said. The department hopes to make a ruling by the end of the year.
Before constructing the new plant, Consumers also must convince the Public Service Commission to issue a certificate saying it is justified.