Massive DTE battery storage project aimed at a cleaner-energy future for Michigan (2024)

At the Monday morning ceremonial groundbreaking of DTE Energy’s latest project, a new power storage plant in Trenton, dignitary after dignitary lined up to speak to a crowd that included some of the state's younger beneficiaries of the utility's effort to wean the state off fossil fuels.

The speakers reminisced about the past, how the nearly century-old plant was a sign of comfort, jobs, and progress for Downriver residents. They also offered their congratulations and aspirations that the new facility, one of the Midwest’s largest, could help usher in a new era of cleaner energy.

"I’m happy we moved a little bit of dirt on DTE’s new Trenton Chanel Energy Center," Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said, after hoisting a shovel for photos. "This site used to be home of the candy canes, two giant red-and-white striped towers that were knocked down in March."

Massive DTE battery storage project aimed at a cleaner-energy future for Michigan (1)

And, the speakers suggested, the new center could be a model for future projects and for other states.

But more than a moment for DTE to show how it is committed to fighting climate change, something that some of its critics question, and for politicians to tout their work with and in Washington, it was a moment to consider how energy generation and the energy grid is changing.

Enough energy for 40,000 homes

By 2026, the site is expected to be transformed into a utility-scale battery energy storage facility, where enough electricity can be stored to power 40,000 homes, a city about the size of Dearborn. The project cost is being offset by $140 million in tax incentives from the 2022 federal Inflation Reduction Act.

In the next few years, DTE plans to build 10-15 more energy storage facilities.

More:DTE building battery storage facility in Trenton to help generate cleaner energy

Whitmer, who made her brief appearance before being driven away in a black SUV, praised DTE’s efforts and noted that it would help the state to reach its clean-energy goals: 60% renewable by 2030 and 100% clean energy by 2040.

Jerry Norcia, DTE’s chairman and CEO, said the center is sign of a "new beginning," not just because the landmark smokestacks are gone, but because, like the original power plant, the storage facility is leading the way in technology.

Massive DTE battery storage project aimed at a cleaner-energy future for Michigan (2)

Back in 2022, when he shut the power plant down, he said, the announcement gave him a pit in his stomach. And, he recalled, many hoped that the plant, which was a source of community pride, could one day find new life.

"Now," the CEO said, "we’re here for the rebirth of this facility."

Moving to renewable energy

For more than a century, America burned fossil fuels — coal, oil and natural gas — leading it to become a global powerhouse, but also a polluter that not only damaged the environment, but threatened climate and human health.

But in the past few years, amid regulatory and cultural shifts to generate energy using renewable sources, wind, solar and hydropower have become more prevalent and are expected to globally overtake coal next year as the largest source of electricity generation, according to the International Energy Agency.

Moreover, the Inflation Reduction Act, which offers significant tax breaks to make solar and wind power more affordable and competitive with fossil fuels, is expected to help boost renewable energy projects, particularly solar.

Right now, DTE said about 80% of its renewable generation is from wind and the rest solar, but going forward, the company expects it to become about 50% for each in five years. Solar, the company added, can generate power when the sun is out and when folks need the electricity to run their air conditioners.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, said that it was emotional to watch the stacks fall. They were, she said, a sign of progress: "They were guides. They meant jobs, they meant energy and they meant so much."

But, the former Trenton resident said, as the dangers of climate change became evident, it became clear that there had to be change.

It's a benefit to the state, she said, to be able to put "Michigan-made power onto the grid," an opportunity to provide better service to customers. And, she added, "we’re going to show the world what you can do with this technology."

What's old is new again

But it was Dan Scripps, the chairman of the state Public Service Commission — who had his two sons, 9 and 13, in tow — made some of the most interesting remarks, suggesting that Michigan has a knack for turning what is old into something new.

Massive DTE battery storage project aimed at a cleaner-energy future for Michigan (3)

The PSC chairman compared what was happening at the old, coal-burning Trenton Channel power plant, which was retired in 2022, to what Ford Motor Co. did with Michigan Central Station: reviving and remaking something that was beloved and defunct.

He also joked that his boys, Nicol and Jack, asked him whether Eminem — who was executive producer of, and performed at, the Central Station concert — was going to show up.

After all the speeches, Nicol, the younger of the two boys, told the Free Press that he and his brother knew Eminem probably wasn’t really going to be there, but they got to meet some other important people. They are, after all, a part of the future generation of Michiganders the cleaner energy will benefit.

As for the joke at their expense, the boys said they knew that their dad would make it up to them.

Contact Frank Witsil: 313-222-5022 or fwitsil@freepress.com.

Massive DTE battery storage project aimed at a cleaner-energy future for Michigan (2024)

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