lot of energy companies talk about their sustainability efforts. At Consumers Energy, it’s much more than just talk. When it comes to going green, few utilities have been as aggressive or as creative as Consumers Energy, the largest power provider in Michigan.
Headquartered in Jackson, 80 miles west of Detroit, Consumers Energy has consistently earned a spot among the nation’s leading utilities for green energy programs, as documented by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). And as it has in the past, the forward-leaning power provider appears yet again this year among Site Selection’s Top Utilities, announced in this issue.
Industry veteran Dennis Cuneo, a former Toyota VP for commercial real estate and now site selection director for Detroit’s Walbridge Real Estate Services, has worked with Consumers Energy on multiple industrial projects and has seen what that means up close.
“I’ve told other utilities that Consumers is the benchmark,” he says, “on flexibility and acceptance of renewable energy.”
And the company isn’t standing pat. Through its steady retirement of coal-fired power plants — to be completed by 2025 — accelerating investments in wind and solar and innovative partnerships with industry, Consumers Energy plans to become fully carbon neutral by 2040, a moment at which 90% of customers’ needs will be met with clean energy resources. The utility’s commitment will serve to advance not only Michigan’s statewide goal of attaining carbon neutrality by 2050, but also the sustainability targets of renewables-hungry industrial customers, led by Michigan’s powerful automotive industry.
“What’s happening now in the site selection world,” says Cuneo, “is that renewable energy is getting more and more important, especially to the second-generation battery automotive projects. Because why else are you going to EVs? If your batteries are made with energy powered by a dirty coal-fired power plant, critics would say you’re not changing anything.
“Given their focus on renewables and given the flexibility they have shown,” Cuneo says, “I think Consumers is a tremendous asset to the State of Michigan and to its efforts to attract new business.”
A One-of-a-Kind Opportunity
It’s what officials at Consumers Energy like to call “clean serving clean”: Clean energy supporting green industrial production and ever greener ambitions.
“We’ve spent a lot of time talking with site consultants and directly with companies,” says Ray De Winkle, Consumers Energy’s senior economic development manager, “to help us understand their renewable goals.”
They’re not always the same. Some high-demand users, says De Winkle, can satisfy their objectives simply by accumulating Renewable Energy Credits (RECs). Others, he says, want to do even more. That is the driving force behind the Consumers Energy Business Renewable Energy Program. Launched in 2018 with a flagship commitment from General Motors, the program allows commercial customers to partner directly with the utility to cultivate new sources of renewable power.
“Our goal here is to make it as easy as possible for our business customers to join the movement to renewables,” says Lindsey Zion, who oversees the program as Consumers Energy’s manager of commercial renewable energy products. “It is a way,” Zion tells Site Selection, “for Michigan businesses as a collective to support the buildout of new renewable energy resources here in Michigan.”
Says De Winkle: “It’s truly ‘win-win’. It allows us to fuel the renewable goals of our customers and decarbonize Michigan’s grid at the same time.”
When they enroll in the program, businesses pay a monthly subscription fee, 100% of which goes toward new wind and solar assets being developed by Consumers Energy. That innovative model allows members to invest in green energy without the costly, upfront capital costs they would otherwise incur on their own. As a further financial incentive, when the utility sells power to the regional MISO grid, subscribers receive a corresponding credit to their monthly utility bills. Last year, says Zion, those credits exceeded the fixed subscription fees.
“Participating businesses actually saved money by being 100% renewable,” she says. “They paid off their subscriptions and got more credits in return.”
Big Businesses Are Buying In
As the program’s founding partner, GM has since strengthened its commitment. Last year, the automaker joined Consumers Energy in announcing a 20-year arrangement to power facilities in Flint, Burton and Wyoming, Michigan, with 70 megawatts of wind power developed by Consumers in Michigan.
“General Motors is committed to combatting climate change and transforming the communities where we work and live,” said Rob Threlkeld, GM’s senior manager of energy strategy and grid decarbonization. “Our collaboration with Consumers Energy brings us closer to our target of sourcing 100% renewable energy in the U.S. by 2025 and will advance our local Michigan communities’ transition to a clean grid.”
GM’s Flint Assembly plant is powered by 100% wind power from Consumers Energy.
Photo courtesy of General Motors
Other high-demand users are taking note. In April, Consumers Energy announced 16 new customers as members of its Business Renewable Energy Program. Among them are automotive suppliers including Circuit Controls, DENSO, I I Stanley and Magna, plus 7-Eleven, Comcast and Henry Ford Health. In total, the utility said, participating businesses have committed to roughly 380 megawatts of renewable energy.
"Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for business customers to join the movement to renewables.”
— Lindsey Zion, Manager, Commercial Renewable Energy Products, Consumers Energy
The Business Renewable Energy Program has come to represent a powerful force for project recruitment. Michigan, says Dennis Cuneo of Walbridge, remains in the running for a major EV battery facility whose undisclosed investor is devoted to the idea of investing to develop new renewable assets. The company, he says, is “adamant for incremental, renewable energy, not just a REC program.
“Consumers,” he says, “put a proposal on the table that’s 100% incremental renewable at a very competitive price. We met with utilities in several states, and nobody compared to Consumers Energy. I was blown away at how they responded.”
This Investment Profile was prepared under the auspices of Consumers Energy. For more information, contact Valerie Christofferson at 616-648-2777 or at valerie. firstname.lastname@example.org. On the web, go to www.ConsumersEnergy.com/econdev.