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Consumers Energy Faces Fight Over Expansion of Coal Plant in Wetlands

March 15, 2010

LANSING, Mich. - Conservation groups are fired up over Consumers Energy plans to expand its coal-fired power plant. The $3.5 billion plan for the Bay City facility includes a request to fill in nearly 7 acres of wetlands.

Tiffany Hartung, associate field representative for the Sierra Club, says all wetlands need protection, and she warns that Consumers may be underestimating the amount of wetlands affected.

"It's right on the mouth of the Saginaw River on the Saginaw Bay. This was built on former bottomlands, so there are a lot of wetlands there. The existing coal-fired power plant has a coal ash waste landfill leaking into Saginaw Bay now. So it's an area of concern, in general."

Consumers Energy says upgrading the plant will allow it to retire up to seven of its older, less-efficient coal units after the new unit begins operating. The utility has the oldest fleet of coal plants in the nation, with an average age of 50 years.

Hartung says Consumers Power has asked permission from the Public Service Commission to raise customer rates to help pay for the expansion. Coal is the largest source of greenhouse gases in the U.S., she adds, and its emissions are responsible for a large part of the dangerously high mercury levels in some waterways and fish. She further contends that demand does not warrant expansion of the plant.

"Michigan doesn't have an increase in energy demand. We don't need this much more energy. Our energy needs can be met through an increase in energy efficiency and an increase in renewables, such as wind turbines and solar energy."

The Sierra Club is weighing its options, she says, and has not ruled out a lawsuit over the expansion plans.

Amy Miller/Laura Thornquist, Public News Service - MI