Michigan’s two major investor-owned utilities are taking divergent paths when it comes to building new energy projects as the state escalates actions to contain the coronavirus.
Jackson-based Consumers Energy will continue construction on renewable energy projects while Detroit-based DTE Energy has halted work on a new $1 billion natural gas plant in St. Clair County.
Consumers president and CEO Patti Poppe told MiBiz Monday morning that as a critical infrastructure company, Consumers will largely continue business as usual as workers take increasing safety measures. The plans are still in place following Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-home order on Monday.
That includes construction on renewable energy, gas and electric distribution projects.
“All of our work, including construction projects, are considered essential,” Poppe said. “We’ll continue to do that work.”
Consumers will also continue to connect new customers for service. Poppe said Consumers crews recently wrapped construction at an auto dealership that added a new detail shop.
“My crew — outside working safely — was able to hook up that new customer service. I consider that essential because that business is essential,” Poppe said. “When that business — when we come out of this crisis — is ready to ramp up their new shop, they’ll have electricity and won’t have to wait six weeks.”
The same goes for renewable energy projects under development. In Ohio, where Gov. Mike DeWine issued a shelter-in-place order on Sunday, Consumers continues work on a renewable energy project.
“We expect the same in Michigan,” Poppe said. “With a new wind project being constructed, the contractor reached out and asked, ‘Do you want to keep working?’ We said, ‘Yes, just stay safe.’”
Consumers will also continue to do repairs on key household equipment like furnaces and water heaters but will not be performing in-home, discretionary appliance repairs. Poppe said Consumers workers are taking additional safety measures to keep social distancing and sanitizing equipment and surfaces. As of Monday morning, Consumers did not have any employees test positive for the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, DTE Energy — Michigan’s other large investor-owned utility — announced Monday it is pausing non-critical and maintenance work. The utility is halting construction on its Blue Water Energy Center, a new $1 billion natural gas plant in East China Township northeast of Detroit. A spokesperson said the utility will continue residential electricity connections.
DTE will continue to restore power outages and respond to gas leaks and downed power lines. It will also continue tree-trimming. However, the utility has idled gas main renewal projects, infrastructure construction and home energy consultations. Last week, DTE reported that three employees tested positive for COVID-19.
“Today’s decision to voluntarily suspend non-critical infrastructure and maintenance work will go a long way to support the health and safety of employees. DTE will continue to reliably deliver the electric and gas service our customers need as this pandemic runs its course,” Jerry Norcia, DTE president and CEO, said in a statement Monday. “We will protect our employees who need to leave their homes to service our customers by ensuring they follow safe practices and utilize protective equipment. DTE is doing its part to mitigate further spread of COVID-19, which will help to protect our customers, communities and highly dedicated health care professionals.”