2022-07-11

By the end of this year, Michigan companies will produce 3,544 megawatts of renewable energy, state statistics show, from an assortment of sources, including 38 wind farms that generate the vast majority of that electricity.

Yet, many large Michigan employers seeking to power their facilities with renewable energy are now having to turn to out-of-state providers. To a significant degree, this diversion of Michigan corporate buyers’ attention is being driven by growing opposition in some rural Michigan communities that have delayed the building of wind and solar farms.

This year’s Michigan renewable energy standard report put it clearly: “Consumers Energy and DTE Electric are experiencing strong customer responses to voluntary renewable energy programs, particularly from commercial and industrial customers. At this time, both electric providers have exhausted the currently available renewable energy supply for their commercial and industrial programs.”

Major employers, such as furniture maker Herman Miller, have used renewable energy for at least 10 years, indicating increasing demand. But, as state records show, the state’s largest utilities already have commitments for their electricity.

No more evident is this trend than in cereal giant Kellogg’s decision to sign a power purchase agreement with a Texas wind project to satisfy 50 percent of its renewable energy commitment.

That deal, signed in 2021, with Enel Green Power will give Kellogg half of the renewable energy it says it needs to meet its corporate commitments. It will help pay Enel to build the 350-megawatt Azure Sky wind farm in Throckmorton County, Texas. The farm will add clean energy to the local power grid and is expected to open this year.

Kellogg has three major manufacturing facilities in Michigan, including two in Montcalm County, which is the site of a fight in some townships over the development of a wind farm there.

When asked by Checks and Balances Project if Kellogg was interested in a power purchase agreement in Montcalm County similar to its deal in Texas, Kellogg declined to comment.

Whirlpool looks elsewhere

Other major Michigan employers have reached power-generation deals with renewable energy providers outside the state. That includes Whirlpool, the state’s largest employer, which has signed two virtual power purchase agreements with wind farms in Texas in the last two years.

In March, Whirlpool celebrated the groundbreaking of a 340-megawatt wind farm in Callahan County, Texas, that will help cut Whirlpool’s carbon pollution footprint and also produce energy for Deere & Company, the parent company of farm equipment maker John Deere.

Meanwhile, Whirlpool has developed on-site wind turbines to generate electricity for its plants in Ohio, but not in Michigan. Whirlpool has not responded to requests for comment from C&BP.

Ford and General Motors

Other major Michigan employers, such as Ford and General Motors, have had more luck contracting for power from renewable sources in the state.

The state’s largest investor-owned utilities, DTE and Consumers Energy, have programs that allow large customers to target their electricity purchases from new wind and solar farms the utilities have developed or are developing. But as the state report shows, they are limited by the lack of new wind farms coming online in Michigan.

DTE has 18 wind projects operating in Michigan, most of them in the state’s Thumb region.

Two General Motors plants in Flint are using renewable energy generated by a Consumers Energy wind farm in Tuscola County. Ford is also buying renewable energy from DTE for some of its manufacturing facilities.

Mike Osborn, a GM spokesman, highlighted the company’s renewable energy commitment in response to C&BP, pointing out its plan to source all of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025.

Dow Chemical, based in Midland, Mich., is also diversifying its sources of electricity.

“Dow remains a leading purchaser of clean energy in our industry and a top 20 clean energy user among global corporations,” Dow spokesman Kyle Bandlow told C&BP. “Last fall Dow announced the addition of 8 new renewable power agreements (RPAs), which would further reduce Dow’s Scope 1 and 2 emissions by more than 600K metric tons per year.”

The most recent agreements, however, have come with renewable energy suppliers in Alberta, Canada, and Kentucky – not in Michigan.

Decreasing costs for renewables

Multiple renewable energy providers participate in Michigan’s Electric Customer Choice program that allows businesses to source electricity from renewable producers.

For example, Constellation NewEnergy Inc. provides wind energy to multiple utilities in Michigan, including DTE and Consumer’s Energy. Wind energy from four wind farms in Michigan – Beebe, Michigan Wind 1 and 2 and Harvest II – provides Constellation’s share of renewables.

State statistics show that the cost of renewable energy continues to drop as more wind and solar farms come online in Michigan.

“The weighted average price of renewable energy contracts approved since 2009 continued to decline to $64.01 per MWh and for 2020 contract approvals is $47.93 per MWh,” the Public Service Commission said in a 2022 report.

Meijer looks outside Michigan

In the latest example of a major Michigan company looking outside the state for renewable energy, Grand Rapids-based retailer Meijer announced the signing of a power agreement with a “subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources LLC to buy the majority of the electricity produced by the 300-MW Lacy Creek Wind Energy Center in Texas,” Renewables Now reported Monday.

Meijer’s corporate headquarters is in the adjacent county to Montcalm County, where wind opponents have stymied development of a wind farm.

Last March, Meijer announced a similar deal with “Duke Energy Sustainable Solutions for a portion of the electricity generated by the Pisgah Ridge Solar project in Navarro County, Texas,” the Renewables Now report said.

The Herman Miller experience

Herman Miller, the Grand Rapids-based furniture maker, has used 100 percent renewable energy since 2010 through a combination of green energy purchases and renewable energy credits.

In 2018, the company signed an agreement to buy 25,000 megawatts of wind energy from the Harvest II wind farm in Huron County. The deal supplied H,rman Miller’s Spring Lake, Mich., manufacturing plant with its entire energy needs.

“The Spring Lake campus is responsible for about a quarter of Herman Miller’s global energy consumption – and is the biggest consumer of electricity in Spring Lake,” NS Energy reported.

Given state reports, if the company wants more renewable energy for its Michigan facilities, it will have to look outside the state.

Ray Locker is the executive director for Checks and Balances Project, an investigative watchdog blog holding government officials, lobbyists, and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP is provided by Renew American Prosperity and individual donors.

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