Michigan’s Gov. Jennifer Granholm last week said in her state of the state address that she had directed the state’s Department of Environmental Quality to evaluate, along with the Public Service Commission (PSC), “feasible and prudent alternatives” before giving coal-fired power plants in Michigan the green light.

Granholm, a Democrat, said in her address that Michigan would pursue an “aggressive” goal to increase the availability of green jobs to reduce the state’s reliance on fossil fuels for generating electricity 45% by 2020.

“How will we reach this 45-by-20 goal and get the jobs that come with it? Instead of spending nearly $2 billion a year importing coal or natural gas from other states we’ll be spending our energy dollars on Michigan wind turbines, Michigan solar panels, Michigan energy-efficiency devices, all designed, manufactured and installed by Michigan workers,” she said.

She instructed the state’s environmental quality department and the PSC to first consider whether the new generation is needed and then to consider technologies that “prevent coal plants from spewing dirty carbon emissions into the air” before approving them—specifically technologies that reduced or sequestered emissions, according to a directive issued soon after her speech. Granholm added, “That breakthrough technology, and others like it, can create jobs [in Michigan], too.”

Michigan is currently home to 19 coal-fired plants, which produce about 60% of the state’s electricity, according to the Energy Information Administration. Most of the coal it uses is shipped in from Wyoming and Montana.

The new coal policy will significantly slow down—but not necessarily halt—construction of coal plants proposed for Bay City, Holland, Midland, and Rogers City. Three other coal plants are also in the works, though they haven’t yet been submitted for state approval.

As environmentalists hailed Granholm’s directive last week, proponents of coal power said the delayed review process for coal plant air permits was regrettable. “New coal-based power plants, like the ones the Governor’s order will delay, are more efficient and significantly lower in emissions than existing plants, and the developers of these plants are certainly ensuring that plants approved and built in the near-term could be retro-fitted with advanced technologies to capture and store CO2,” Joe Lucas, senior vice president of communications for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, said in a press release. “In fact, given the time necessary to permit and construct a new power plant today, it is entirely feasible to assume that these new carbon capture and storage technologies would become available for deployment at or very near the time these new plants are put into operation.”

Lucas also said that that the policy ignored the urgent need to develop new power generation to meet the needs of Michigan’s energy-intensive industries. “As American automakers shift to manufacturing plug-in hybrid vehicles to keep pace with President Obama’s challenge to put a million of these vehicles on the road, Michigan will require a robust supply of baseload electricity. Renewable resources such as wind and solar alone will not be sufficient to meet that growing need,” he said.

Sources: Office of the Governor of Michigan, Energy Information Administration, American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity