New Michigan Gas-Fired Plant Will Replace Existing Coal Plant

A Michigan utility will build a $500 million natural gas-fired power plant on the site of an existing coal-fired plant in Lansing, and plans to retire the coal plant and another coal-fired facility in the town in the next few years.

Lansing’s Board of Water & Light (BWL) announced the project December 18. The city-owned utility said the new 250-MW gas plant, scheduled for startup in 2021, will be able to reuse some of the infrastructure already in place at the Erickson Power Plant, a 160-MW coal-fired facility that BWL has said it will shutter by 2025. The utility also has said it will retire the 375-MW Eckert coal-fired plant in Lansing by 2020.

The Erickson plant was built in 1973. The Eckert site dates back to 1922; the five units currently operational entered service from 1954 to 1970. The facility was instrumental in the area’s growth, powering manufacturing for the automotive industry.

BWL has said closing its last two coal-fired plants in Lansing will cut carbon emissions in the city by 80%. The utility, which has nearly 100,000 power customers and about 56,000 water customers in the Lansing area, has set goals of having 30% of its power generation from renewable sources by year-end 2020, and 40% by 2030, as part of its BWL Strategic Plan announced in 2016.

BWL General Manager Dick Peffley told the Lansing State Journal that the Erickson site was one of several the utility considered for the natural gas-fired facility. “It’s just more cost-effective to be able to reuse the infrastructure we already have,” he said.

Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero at a news conference Monday to announce the project praised the utility’s move away from coal. “To be coal-free by 2025 is amazing. At a time when we have wildfires raging out of control in California, when we have climate-change deniers in power in Washington, we have a local public utility embracing an environmentally sustainable future,” said Bernero.

Mayor-elect Andy Schor, who takes office in 2018, said, “People in Lansing and our region want reliable power, as well as green and efficient power. This new plant will help to achieve both. I’m thrilled to be able to hit the ground running with these exciting new developments that will continue to grow this city when I become mayor next year.”

Though BWL is closing its coal plants, it will still provide coal-fired power to the area for a few years under a power purchase agreement with Detroit Edison’s Belle River coal plant.

BWL also in 2016 announced its Lansing Energy Tomorrow plan, which calls for adding about 100 MW of wind power to its portfolio, along with purchasing generation from what it calls “the state’s largest sun-tracking solar array,” a 24-MW project being built in Delta Township, adjacent to General Motors Lansing Delta Assembly Plant.

The solar project, being built by Vermont-based groSolar, is expected to begin operation next summer. More than two dozen wind farms are either operational or being developed in Michigan, with the majority sited in the “Thumb” area, north and east of Saginaw near Lake Huron.

Darrell Proctor is a POWER associate editor (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine)