Consumers Energy Plans Smart Energy District To Attract New Business

March 22, 2019
Consumers Energy is planning the Jackson Smart Grid Energy District and has issued a request for information from potential vendors to determine its path going forward, which would include a timetable and a budget.

Communities across America are trying to reinvent themselves — to become 21st Century models where businesses will locate and younger people will want to live. And one such idea is the “smart city,” which entails everything from creating green spaces to renewable energy hubs. The city of Jackson, Mich. is trying to do just that, using its downtown as the centerpiece where it would form the Jackson Smart Energy District.

It would create an efficient and affordable clean energy model — one that uses the latest smart energy solutions and the associated technologies. The goal would be to build out that project.

“We are excited to add to the comeback story of our city, which is home to our headquarters, and help Jackson continue to attract new development,” said Patti Poppe, Consumers Energy’s chief executive. “The new Smart Energy District will be a beacon for all of Michigan that Jackson is a vibrant, innovative place to live and do business.”

By Christos Georghiou/

Altogether, the project will involve the construction of new buildings, the renovation of older ones and the restoration of historic sites. Everything is on the table, including energy efficiency office buildings, on site green energy generation, rooftop solar panels, battery storage and electric vehicle charging stations. Ultimately, the utility’s goal is to reduce its carbon emissions by 90 percent by, in part, satisfying the area’s energy needs with renewables at 40 percent.

Other cities are taking similar steps. Carson City, Nevada, for example, has created an infrastructure device that controls wastewater, transportation, landfill, and energy. Chicago, meanwhile, provides real-time data to give city managers an eye into how much energy is being consumed. Other places around the country are using innovative light and traffic controls to make it easier to find park spots.

The Midwest, ironically, has been slow to take such steps, which include building on-site generation that interconnects with microgrids. That’s because electricity there has generally been cheap. But the business case for building smart cities with distributed generation, microgrids and battery storage should center on providing reliable electricity. That is the lifeblood of any community and any business.

CEO Poppe announced plans for the Jackson Smart Energy District during the first State of the City Address by new Jackson Mayor Derek Dobies in February. The company has issued a request for information from potential vendors to determine its path going forward, which would include a timetable and a budget. It asks such questions as their experience with smart city projects and the results they achieved.

“We issued our request for information to collect ideas on any technologies, business models, or others solutions that can help us accomplish our clean energy goals for the district,” said Paul Gruber, manager of business development for Consumers Energy. “Potential solutions could include the establishment of a microgrid, but we are not specifying any solutions at this point until we understand the full landscape of potential solutions and understand the costs, benefits to the grid, and value to our customers.”

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About the Author

Ken Silverstein

Since the late 1990s, I've covered energy, beginning with the rise and fall of Enron -- first as a magazine writer before becoming a columnist. For more than seven years, I've been a columnist for Forbes while also expanding my coverage to include key environmental issues and emerging technologies such as microgrids. I've also done some global reporting of those same issues that touch the African and Asian regions. My work has appeared in, and by cited by, dozens of publications and broadcasts.

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