Michigan’s energy landscape saw major changes in 2011 with growing renewable energy supplies, significant customer savings through energy efficiency, and a rebalancing of its energy supply portfolio. “As Consumers Energy celebrates its 125th year of service, we’re taking a look back at significant energy developments this year.

Looking to 2012 and beyond, Consumers Energy plans on investing $6.6 billion in Michigan over the next five years to improve the environment, boost the economy and create jobs, and add value to the electric and natural gas service we provide to 6.8 million people in the state,” said John Russell, Consumers Energy’s president and chief executive officer.

Major energy developments in Michigan this year included: Customers set all-time record: 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 the company’s 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. Severe weather: Severe weather was a staple in 2011, and weather-related  challenges to Consumers Energy’s electric system increased dramatically.  Severe weather warnings for thunderstorms and tornadoes increased by 100 percent over last year, and the occurrence of ice and freezing precipitation conditions increased by 600 percent.

Lightning strikes increased by 300 percent over last year.  Consumers Energy aggressively responded to this challenge through increased pre-storm planning, technology advances and outage analysis. Renewable energy costs decline, wind moves forwardRenewable energy is emerging as an important factor in Michigan’s energy supply.

Consumers Energy reduced the estimated cost of its renewable energy plan by $54 million per year due to improved wind turbine technology.  Following approval by the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC), customer costs for the program were lowered in September. Separately, construction began in November of the utility’s 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. Economic gardening takes root: The Snyder Administration’s philosophy of strengthening the state’s economy by stimulating business to business sales between Michigan-based companies is gaining traction.

Consumers Energy was 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. At year-end Consumers Energy increased its spend with Michiganbusinesses by $170 million in multi-year contracts awarded to 89 companies.

The utility’s new “Michiganpreferred” purchasing strategy is helping state businesses create jobs and retain workers. Energy efficiency helps customers save money:  Energy efficiency is the cheapest source of new energy supplies.  Consumers Energy customers are seeing significant savings by implementing energy efficiency measures, part of Michigan’s energy reform law.

Customers have saved more than $92 millionsince programs were launched in July 2009. Renewed focus on energy policy:  State and federal policy makers closely examined energy issues in 2011.  Michigan’s landmark energy reform law of 2008 was comprehensively reviewed and reaffirmed during several weeks of hearings and testimony by more than 60 participants before the state Senate Energy and Technology Committee, led by Sen. Mike Nofs (R-Battle Creek/Jackson).

The law, which includes provisions for expanding renewable energy, energy efficiency programs, and regulatory reform, is creating jobs and strengthening Michigan’s economy.  The Michigan Jobs and Energy Coalition, comprised of statewide energy providers, business organizations, labor organizations and renewable energy advocates, led efforts to uphold the law.

Air quality regulations take effect:  Michigan’s air quality continued to improve in 2011.  Consumers Energy continued its progress and has achieved about a 60 percent reduction in total emissions from its 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.

Consumers Energy announced $1.6 billion in further investments in ongoing air quality improvements at its five major coal plants, cancellation of a clean-coal project at its 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: Ensuring energy bill assistance for low-income customers received significant attention.

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.  Consumers Energy is a participant 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.

Stability and community outreach:  On Dec. 6 Consumers Energy celebrated the start of its yearlong celebration of 125 years of service to Michigan.  The celebration highlight was the Consumers Energy 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.

“Consumers Energy is proud that we’ve been serving customers in Michigan for 125 years.  Michiganfamilies and businesses know they can ‘Count of Us’ to provide them with reliable, safe and affordable electric and natural gas service.  Our employees are fully committed to making Michigan successful as we begin a new year,” said Russell.

Consumers Energy, the principal subsidiary of CMS Energy, provides natural gas and electricity to 6.8 million of Michigan’s 10 million residents in all 68 Lower Peninsula counties.