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Consumers Energy evaluates the future of its 13 hydroelectric dams

The image is of the Alcona Dam Pond. This dam is located on the Au Sable River in Michigan. The dam is surrounded by trees and there is a small island in the middle of the lake. The dam is a concrete structure with a spillway on the left side. The lake is a dark blue color and the water is calm.
Consumers Energy
Alcona Hydro is a Consumers Energy hydro energy plant in Alcona County. It has a capacity of 8,000 kilowatts. It began commercial operation in 1924.

Consumers Energy is considering selling the 13 hydroelectric dams the utility operates in Michigan.

The utility's operating licenses for the dams, issued by the federal government, are expected to begin expiring in 11 years.

The dams together produce less than one percent of energy used by the utility's nearly 2 million customers.

Norm Kapala, Vice President of Generation Operations at Consumers Energy, said selling the plants would enable the company to explore more cost-effective energy sources.

"Financing our hydroelectric power operations requires our customers to pay about nine times more for the cost of energy compared to other generation sources," he said.

Kapala explained the utility plans to issue a formal request for proposals in the coming months to gauge interest from potential buyers who would be capable of safely operating the dams.

"This option allows us to assess our triple bottom-line costs, execute our clean energy plan and maintain affordable rates for our customers," he added.

Consumers Energy is also considering three other plans for the future of the dams. Adam Monroe, the utility's Executive Director of Hydro Generation, said his team is evaluating the feasibility of continuing dam operations.

He outlined the third option as decommissioning, or returning the river to its natural state.

"The fourth option involves implementing a modified structure, such as a low head dam or a downstream barrier, to hinder the movement of invasive species upstream," he said.

Continued operation of the dams requires the renewal of operating licenses. If renewed, the licenses would allow the company to operate the dams until 2080, requiring an additional investment of $150 million to maintain full capacity.

The Jackson-based utility has held public meetings to gather community input on the hydroelectric plants. There will be more public meetings later this year.

Monroe said a decision regarding the future of the dams is expected by March of next year.

"We are still in the evaluation process, and once we have a comprehensive hydro strategy and the necessary elements for evaluation, we will reach the appropriate conclusion," Kapala said.

As WKAR's Bilingual Latinx Stories Reporter, Michelle reports in both English and Spanish on stories affecting Michigan's Latinx community.
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