GAINES TOWNSHIP, MI – When Switch was eyeing Michigan as a location for a massive data center, the Nevada tech firm was looking for an energy source that was reliable, sustainable and affordable.
The request for 100 percent renewable energy proved to be the most challenging for Consumers Energy.
“We didn’t know how to exactly how to get there but we committed,” said Garrick Rochow, Consumers senior vice president for distribution and customer operations.
On Monday, the state’s largest utility announced it was asking the Michigan Service Commission to approve a green energy tariff to meet the needs of Switch and other companies.
The tariff is a package of rates and rules for specific customers. In this case, Switch and about two dozen other big customers eager to buy renewable energy from Consumers.
Switch would be the utility’s first large business customer for renewable energy. The 1.8 million-square-foot data center campus in Gaines Township opened its first phase of operations in the iconic former Steelcase pyramid building in March.
Consumers plans to meet Switch’s request with the expansion of the Cross Winds Energy Park. The Tuscola County project – which will add 19 wind turbines over 15 square miles – breaks ground this month.
Sustainably running the Internet has been a bedrock principle of Switch since Rob Roy started the company in 2000, says Adam Kramer, Switch executive vice president of strategy.
“We aren’t just looking at the next few years. Switch’s commitment to Michigan is for the next few decades. We plan on having a longterm commitment here for the foreseeable future.” Kramer said.
Both Kramer and Rochow made their comments during a conference call with reporters Monday, May 15, to discuss the filing with the Michigan Service Commission, the entity responsible for approving electric rates.
Consumers currently provides 10 percent of customers’ energy use from renewable sources. Michigan’s new energy law requires the level to increase to 15 percent by 2021.
Access to renewable energy is going to be increasingly important in recruiting and retaining companies in the state, according to Rochow.
“We see this as a big boost for Michigan and a big boost for economic development,” Rochow said. “We’re really leveraging this for a number of important companies that are considering locating in Michigan as well as existing customers in Michigan.”
The tariff is also a way for companies to lock in prices for an extended period of time. Initial participation in the tariff is 5 years with a 3 year minimum re-enrollment.
The commission’s review process is expected to take about 6 months.
Rochow says Consumers plans to spend $18 billion over the next 10 years to improve service.
“The cost of renewable energy continues to decline due to technology and we are seeing better wind patterns than we initially anticipated,” Rochow said. “It is certainly a good source of energy supply for our future.”
The Jackson-based Consumers, a principal subsidiary of CMS Energy, provides natural gas and electricity to 6.7 million of the state’s 10 million residents in all 68 Lower Peninsula counties.