WEST OLIVE, MI – Lawsuits between two utilities in Michigan should settle a dispute over the planned early retirement of the coal-fired J.H. Campbell power plant in Ottawa County.
Consumers Energy filed a lawsuit in late May against Wolverine Power Cooperative, and the cooperative has since countersued, both because of a contract disagreement over the larger utility’s discretion to shut down the multiple units at the 1,440-megawatt power plant. Wolverine opposed the closure when state utility regulators considered the move and eventually signed off last month.
Now the case is in circuit court. Both companies allege breach of contract: Consumers argues Wolverine has not cooperated in the plant’s retirement, while Wolverine contends Consumers broke a contract that agreed to run the power plant for about another decade.
“They disagreed with our decision to shut that plant down early in 2025,” said Brandon Hofmeister, Consumers Energy’s senior vice president for governmental, regulatory, and public affairs.
“What that lawsuit is about is about settling a dispute between Wolverine and Consumers about some of the way we made that decision and the financial implications of that between the two companies.”
Consumers wants the court to affirm it’s sole authority to close the plant, require Wolverine to share the cost of closure, and declare the company is not financially responsible for any of Wolverine’s alleged related losses. Wolverine wants the plant to stay open through the length of the original contract.
According to the lawsuit, Wolverine officials have said the electric cooperative would stand to lose more than $37 million if the third unit at J.H. Campbell is shuttered early.
Prior to last year’s announcement that Consumers wanted to close all three units at the J.H. Campbell plant by 2025, two of the coal-fired units were slated to retire in 2031, with the last unit scheduled to retire in 2040.
Wolverine officials said they denied Consumers’ claims in their recent response to the suit.
“At the same time, Wolverine filed a countersuit alleging Consumers Energy’s breach of the 40-plus-year-old agreement that governs the operation of this reliable and useful power plant that has long-ensured electric reliability for Michigan residents,” said Casey Clark, Wolverine’s vice president of communications.
Wolverine will have to find replacement power sources sooner than previously planned, should the J.H. Campbell plant close in 2025.
Ending the use of coal power in Michigan factors heavily in state climate goals to be carbon-neutral by 2050. Federal statistics show power generation is responsible for 25% of total greenhouse gas emissions nationwide, and more than 70% of industrial emissions in Michigan.
Coal-burning power plants result in larger greenhouse gas emissions than any other form of energy generation. Power providers are transitioning toward lower-carbon sources, such as natural gas and renewable energy from solar fields and wind farms.
The J.H. Campbell plant emitted nearly 6.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2020, the second-largest industrial greenhouse gas source in Michigan that year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Statistics show only DTE Energy’s coal-fired power plant in Monroe emitted more carbon dioxide with its more than 13 million metric tons in 2020.
Environmental advocates celebrated the news that the J.H. Campbell plant would be closed early in 2025 when the Michigan Public Service Commission voted last month to approve Consumers Energy’s integrated resource plan. Now those advocates are closely watching this circuit court case.
“It’s important for the question of coal plant retirements, which is an ongoing issue in Michigan,” said Charlotte Jameson, chief policy officer for nonprofit Michigan Environmental Council.
The outcome may have ramifications for other coal-fired power plants that run under similar joint operating agreements, such as DTE Energy’s Belle River Power Plant, she said.
DTE last year announced it will end coal use at the Belle River Power Plant by the end of 2028 – two years ahead of schedule – to hasten its carbon emissions reductions.