DTE Retires River Rouge Coal-Fired Plant

DTE Energy has retired the last operating unit of its River Rouge coal-fired power plant along the Detroit River, a facility that came online in 1956 and entered commercial operation in 1958. The utility on June 4 said River Rouge, located just southwest of Detroit, Michigan, operated for the final time on May 31.

The retirement of River Rouge is among moves taken as part of DTE Energy’s program to reduce carbon emissions. The Detroit-based utility has increased its investment in solar and wind power, and is placing more of an emphasis on natural gas-fired power generation, along with the continued operation of its Fermi nuclear plant.

The company’s current goal is to cut emissions by 50% by 2030, and 80% by 2040.

DTE plans to close three of its remaining five coal-fired power plants by the end of next year, a number that includes the 358-MW River Rouge. The utility has said the closings represent the single largest carbon emissions reduction happening in the state of Michigan.

“As Michigan’s need for electricity grew over the decades, our employees at River Rouge worked together to serve our customers and communities as an engine of progress,” said Jerry Norcia, president and CEO of DTE Energy, in a statement. “Now that this plant has achieved its generation lifespan and we move into the next evolution of power generation, I would like to thank the men and women who gave their energy to the plant over the years and to the communities that supported them.” 

Norcia continued: “DTE is proud to be Michigan’s largest producer of wind and solar energy and within two years, we will generate enough renewable energy to power approximately 900,000 homes. We firmly believe that our clean energy generation transformation is the right thing to do for our customers and the communities we serve. That’s why we are doing as much as we can, as fast as we can, to provide our customers and the state of Michigan with clean energy that is affordable and reliable.”

Other Utilities Phasing Out Coal

Consumers Energy, along with DTE one of Michigan’s largest electricity providers, in 2018 said it would phase out its coal-fired units over the next two decades.

DTE said River Rouge, which at its peak had three units and about 840 MW of generation capacity, supported about 300 jobs. The plant’s other units were closed in 2008 and 2016, according to Global Energy Monitor. DTE’s two remaining operating coal-fired power plants are the 1,547-MW St. Clair Power Plant in St. Clair, and the 536-MW Trenton Channel Power Plant in Trenton, with both scheduled to be retired next year.

The St. Clair plant came online with Unit 1 in 1953, and added six more units over the next 16 years. Unit 4, which came online in 1954, was retired in 2017; Unit 1 was retired in 2019. Unit 5 was taken out of service in 1979 due to a mechanical problem with the boiler.

The Trenton plant, also known as the Trenton Stacks, was originally completed in 1924, with six turbine generators—the last was brought online in 1929—and 13 coal-fired boilers. The Trenton units were the first in the U.S. to use electrostatic precipitators to capture fly ash from the stacks. A second plant at the site, with two more generators, entered service in 1950.

Unit 9 at Trenton, the only unit still in operation at the site, came online in 1968.

DTE’s closure of River Rouge came the same day as PSEG Power announced the retirement of that utility’s last coal-fired plant, Unit 3 at the Bridgeport Harbor Station in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) has said it expects more than 4 GW of coal-fired generation capacity will be retired this year, down from 9.4 GW in 2020.

EIA said about 22 GW of coal-fired capacity is scheduled for shutdown through 2024. The U.S. has about 220 GW of generation capacity in its current coal-fired fleet.  

Darrell Proctor is associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).

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