TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — Michigan must quicken its pace at developing renewable power sources such as wind while becoming more efficient with energy to meet requirements outlined Monday by the Obama administration for reducing carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired electric plants.
A plan drafted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would require Michigan to reduce carbon output by 31.5 percent from 2012 levels, when its utilities pumped 63 million metric tons into the atmosphere — 11th highest among the states. Coal-fired power plants are the leading source of greenhouse gases pushing the climate toward warming that scientists say could produce catastrophic damage.
Coal is the primary fuel for electricity in Michigan, as in neighboring states in the industrial Midwest. Michigan gets 49 percent of its power from coal, 26 percent from nuclear plants and 20 percent from natural gas.
Even so, state regulators and power companies acknowledge the need for change. Many coal-fired plants are being phased out, and Republican Gov. Rick Snyder announced a "no-regrets" energy policy last December that included less reliance on coal and greater use of natural gas and renewables.
"Unlike a lot of states that just come out of the chute in opposition to this, we support the goal" of the Obama plan, said Dan Wyant, director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. "That's good for the environment and long-term good for Michigan. Yet we need the flexibility and timeliness to make a smooth transition. We do not want to put Michigan ratepayers and businesses at a competitive disadvantage compared to other states."
He said the department was awaiting more detail about how the rule would work, including deadlines and how much credit Michigan would receive for greenhouse gas reductions already achieved. Until then, he said it was unclear how big a challenge the plan would pose or what it might cost ratepayers.
EPA estimates that about 6 percent of emission reductions could be achieved through greater efficiency at coal-fired plants. Other means include using less coal, greater reliance on renewables and reducing consumer demand.
Michigan law requires utilities to produce 10 percent of their power from renewable sources by the end of 2015. Voters rejected a ballot initiative two years ago pushed by environmental groups that called for a 25 percent requirement by 2025, which opponents said would boost electric bills.