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O’Meara: Michigan's clean energy future requires a strong electrical grid | Opinion

Recent announcements from Ford, Comcast and Stellantis to partner with DTE Energy and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s statewide goal of having Michigan’s economy be carbon neutral by 2050 demonstrates that Michigan is on a path toward a clean energy expansion.

But to realize this clean energy future, more must be done. Enabling companies, or even the state, to achieve their ambitious goals requires a robust, reliable and flexible grid.  

Thousands of megawatts of wind and solar have been, and are expected to be, integrated into Michigan’s electric grid in the coming years, and more transmission investment is needed to ensure Michigan residents receive their energy reliably and affordably while meeting the decarbonization goals of businesses and the state.

Through the long-range transmission planning report initiated by the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), a $10.3 billion portfolio of transmission infrastructure projects was approved in July 2022 to help Michigan and its neighboring states increase reliability from renewable energy generation and distribution. Of the 18 recommended projects, two are in Michigan and entail approximately 110 miles of new transmission line construction and 75 miles of existing line upgrades.

Additionally, the two projects are expected to provide Michigan ratepayers with over $6B in economic benefits. These projects will allow Michigan to transfer more energy to other areas when available and needed. Since the energy grid is interconnected across the region, the ability to share power between states reduces the risk of temporary power outages while allowing lower-cost resources to reach customers.

Clean Grid Alliance estimates that the long-range transmission planning projects will lead to more than 8,300 megawatts of new solar, wind, hybrid and battery storage development in Michigan. This expansion will produce enough electricity to power more than 1.7 million homes, create more than 34,000 jobs across the state. Increased energy transmission capacity and a modernized system will make our region more resilient and secure.  

As MISO is working on additional transmission investment, renewable energy offers fixed-price contracts because it has zero fuel costs and is not susceptible to volatile fuel markets to provide reliable energy. Over the last decade, wind and solar prices have fallen 47% and 71% respectively, making them the most affordable new energy sources.

U.S. wind and solar projects have resulted in more than $6 billion in capital investments to accelerate growth in the state and its economy. Furthermore, the clean power industry has created jobs, providing locals with the opportunity to join the workforce. Many jobs and skills in the renewable energy industry are transferrable to, and from, the agriculture sector, offering new opportunities for those living in rural communities.     

Additionally, in 2021, Consumers Energy announced it would stop using coal as a generating resource for electricity by 2025; and as demonstrated within their approved integrated resources plan, Consumers Energy plans to incorporate 8,000 MW of solar generation into the state’s generation mix by 2040.

Further, in the recently proposed DTE Electric integrated resources plan, they too announced the end of using coal by 2035 and have proposed incorporating over 15,000 MW of wind and solar generation by 2040. While that investment is encouraged, additional transmission must be developed to support and ensure a reliable, resilient and flexible transmission grid is maintained to meet the energy demands in Michigan and the entire region.

We depend on electricity for our economy, security and the health of our citizens. I urge our state leaders to do more to advance reliable transmission and encourage the great people of Michigan to continue supporting modernizing the grid.

Robert O’Meara is manager of government affairs at ITC Holdings Corporation.