A Cleaner Portfolio for DTE Would Mean More Jobs for Michigan
March 7, 2018 | Power Up Michigan
Within the next few weeks Michigan regulators will decide whether to green-light a new gas-fired power plant to power DTE Energy’s electric utility.
The decision is an important one in part because it represents a much needed transition away from the uneconomic and highly polluting coal plants that have powered our economy for the past Century. But more importantly, it’s a decision about whether to invest in another generation of fossil-fueled power plants, or to grab the opportunity to invest in a truly innovative 21st Century electric system powered by clean, flexible, reliable and affordable resources.
One metric that is critical to look at is job creation. A recent analysis by BW Research concluded that a portfolio of wind, solar and energy efficiency resources could create just as much electricity and capacity as the gas plant, while creating ten times more construction jobs and four times more permanent operation and maintenance jobs than the gas plant.
Let’s take a closer look at why.
Building renewable energy projects like wind farms or solar gardens takes more workers than building a gas plant. Specifically, it would take roughly 5000 people to build the wind and solar capacity and to install the energy efficiency measures it would take to substitute for DTE’s gas plant. This is compared to DTE’s estimate of 500 construction jobs to build the plant. This 5000 job number does not include the indirect jobs created in the renewable energy supply chain (think, manufacturing), or the induced jobs created when those 5000 clean energy construction workers spend their wages in Michigan’s economy.
But what about the ongoing job of running these power systems? DTE has testified that it expects to create 35 permanent jobs at the plant, “plus additional support staff.” However, this compares to nearly 140 jobs maintaining the renewable energy systems over time.
How can renewable energy be more labor intensive, and yet less costly than a power plant? In large part the answer is in the absence of fuel costs. Gas has to be extracted from the ground, transported by a series of pipelines and burned to fuel a power plant and that costs money. Once the wind and solar installations are built, there are no fuel costs.
DTE also points to tax benefits for the local community near its plant, and indeed for that community power plants have been a key source of tax revenues. However, building renewable energy also has associated tax revenue implications that must be weighed. An estimated $200 million in state and local taxes would be generated by the renewable energy projects it would take to defer or avoid the need for a new gas plant.
This case comes and a critical moment, when across the country the price of clean renewable energy has finally declined enough to be more affordable than traditional power plants. States from coast to coast are redefining the electric system to make use of abundant renewable resources. A decision to anchor Michigan’s economy to a last-century resource now could be one that we regret for decades to come. The new data on job creation gives us one more reason to ask DTE and state regulators to press pause and take another hard look at clean energy alternatives.