The Michigan Public Service Commission gave final approval recently to a nearly $1-billion natural gas-fired plant along the St. Clair River near the Canadian border. The plant was designed to replace power from three coal-fired plants that its owner, Detroit-based DTE Energy, says it plans to retire.

The panel approved three certificates of necessity for DTE Energy. The 1,100-megawatt facility is expected to supply 850,000 homes in Michigan with electricity by 2022. DTE hopes to have its water, air and construction permits by the end of the year so the project can break ground in spring 2019. Completion is planned for 2022.

Michigan Public Service Commissioner Norman Saari took the unusual step of publicly chiding DTE Energy for what he called “legal bullying” in addressing challenges to the project by environmental groups. He even asked the company to refrain from referring to opposing testimony by environmentalist groups as an “attempt to throw sand in the gears of this proceeding” or “an exercise in obfuscation.”

DTE says the East China Township plant, along with an already planned, separate increase in solar and wind production, would cut the utility’s carbon emissions 30% by the early 2020s and 80% by 2050. The utility’s fuel mix in 2017 was 65% coal, 21% nuclear, 5% gas and 9% renewables.

While noting that the company “overwhelmingly supports renewables” and citing several recent DTE investments in wind and solar in Michigan, DTE Energy senior communications specialist Renee McClelland wrote in an email message that “to replace the capacity that will be retired in the 2020-2023 timeframe with all renewables, would cost three times more than the cost of building a new natural gas plant. Using natural gas in combination with renewables assures a cleaner, reliable and affordable energy future for Michigan.”