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Consumers Energy weighs future of its 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 evaluating how customers could be impacted if the utility sells or decommissions its hydroelectric dams.

Consumers operates 13 dams on Michigan rivers and generates less than 1% of its energy from the facilities.

The dams will need to have their licenses renewed in 2034. The utility reports it would cost $1.4 billion to keep the facilities operating and $631 million to take them offline.

Officials claim it would be cheaper to shut down the dams rather than keeping the facilities online, but both options would likely push costs onto customers. Consumers is also considering selling the power plants to another energy provider.

Josh Burgett, executive director of community engagement with Consumers, said the utility is considering environmental impacts and impacts on residents as it proceeds with a decision.

“We're absolutely looking at how does our decision impact communities from a taxing standpoint," Burgett said. "How does it impact residents? How does it impact tourism? And then also, how does it impact rates?”

Consumers Energy is seeking alternative funding sources like grants and federal dollars to offset costs in either scenario.

The dams also generate millions of dollars in taxes, utility officials report, providing jobs and increased property value to neighboring communities.

Public Sector Consultants is working with Consumers to survey residents who live near the dams and hear their perspectives.

“They've had these assets in their communities for 100 years or more, and we came in thinking that they'd be ready to have a conversation about the future and that they just weren't ready to have,” said Public Sector Consultants Vice President Maggie Pallone.

The utility did not report a timeline for the decision.

Arjun Thakkar is WKAR's politics and civics reporter.
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