With our 125th anniversary celebration last month, we have reflected a lot on our company’s history. Last year had its fair share of historic moments.
All-time Record Electric Use: Economic improvement picked up in the part of Michigan served by Consumers Energy. On July 21, Consumers Energy’s 1.8 million electric customers set an all-time hourly peak record of 8,930 megawatts (MW), the highest level in our 125-year history. Electric sales to industrial customers in 2011 returned to pre-recession levels, with sales to residential customers expected to return to that level in 2012.
Renewable Energy Technology Advances: Renewable energy is emerging as an important factor in Michigan’s energy supply. We reduced the estimated cost of our renewable energy plan by $54 million per year due to improved wind turbine technology. Following approval by the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC), our customer costs for the program were lowered in September.
First Utility-owned Wind Park in the State: Construction began in November on our first wind energy project, the Lake Winds Energy Park in Mason County. The addition of Lake Winds, scheduled to begin production by year-end 2012, will increase to 8 percent the amount of renewable energy that Consumers Energy provides to customers.
$170 Million to Michigan Businesses: We were one of the first companies to join Gov. Rick Snyder and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation in the new Pure Michigan Business Connect initiative, created to help state businesses expand and grow. By the end of 2011, we increased spending with Michigan businesses by $170 million in multi-year contracts awarded to 89 companies.
$92 Million in Energy Savings: Our customers are seeing significant savings by implementing energy efficiency measures that were part of Michigan’s energy reform law. Our customers have saved more than $92 million since programs were launched in July 2009.
Air Quality Regulations Take Effect: Michigan’s air quality continued to improve in 2011 as we achieved about a 60 percent reduction in total emissions from our power plants. Meanwhile, the U.S. EPA issued a series of controversial environmental regulations that will have a major impact on coal plants in Michigan and across the country. Last month we announced $1.6 billion in further investments in ongoing air quality improvements at our five major coal plants, cancellation of a clean-coal project at our Karn/Weadock Complex, and anticipated suspension in operations in 2015 at seven smaller coal plants. The air quality investments are expected to produce 2,000 construction jobs.
Protection for Vulnerable Customers: On Dec. 20 Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation authorizing the Vulnerable Household Warmth Fund to provide emergency financial assistance to low-income customers struggling to pay their energy bills. The MPSC quickly implemented the law. We participated in a workgroup led by State Sen. Bruce Caswell (R-Hillsdale) to develop long-term strategies to reform the state’s low-income energy assistance programs.
$125 Million in Matching Grants: On Dec. 6 we celebrated the start of our yearlong celebration of 125 years of service to Michigan. The celebration highlight was our foundation’s announcement of $1.25 million in matching grants to 10 communities, including Bay City, Flint, Grand Rapids, Jackson, Kalamazoo, Lansing, Muskegon, Pontiac, Saginaw and Traverse City.