Electricity rates for Michigan residents who get their power from Consumers Energy increased effective Thursday.
The utility had first requested this current rate hike in September of 2012.
This week's approval by the Michigan Public Service Commission will generate an additional $89 million per year which Consumers said is needed to pay for increased production and transmission costs.
An average residential customer using 500 kilowatt-hours will see a monthly increase of $1.67.
Judy Palnau is a spokesperson for the MPSC.
"In their filing with the commission noted several reasons for needing additional money and everything from improving their operations and maintenance to improving the system so it is more reliable as it provides electric service to customers to complying with environmental laws." Palnau said.
Palneau said the approved increase represents sixty percent of Consumers request from last year.
Consumers provides power to six point eight million Michigan residents.
The Flint and Genesee Chamber Commerce are setting an example nationally with their use of clean energy.
A report released this week shows they have evolved to be one of the largest local chambers in the country in driving local economic development with clean energy.
The recognition comes from a "first-of-its-kind" report released by the Chambers for Innovation and Clean Energy, or CICE.
Officials say the report includes a comprehensive look at the role of the Flint and Genesee Chamber.
Diane Doucette is the Executive Director at CICE.
"They're setting a great example. They provide a very good model for local chambers around the country to replicate. And we love what they're doing because every local chamber in the country, and there are between four and six thousand chambers that could benefit by this example." Doucette said.
Doucette said the chamber excels in attracting investment, supporting business growth, and diversifying the local economy around clean and efficient energy.
Nationally, she said the progression of clean energy use has slowed because of politics.
Two northwest Michigan utilities have found a way to bring solar panels to their customers.
The voluntary program allows customers to pay for a solar panel up front, and then earn a credit on their bills for the next 25 years.
It's called the "Solar Alliance," a partnership between Cherryland Electric Cooperative and Traverse City Light and Power.
Customers can purchase a solar panel, which the utilities will install and maintain at their headquarters. The customer then gets a credit on their monthly bill.
Tony Anderson with Cherryland Electric said the utility wanted to provide solar power, but it didn't want to force people to participate.
"I have some members who want it, and I have some members who are skeptical, and this makes it fair to everybody. If you want to try it, you can participate. If you're skeptical and don't want to, you don't have to, and it's not going to affect your rate." Anderson said.
The panels cost about 480-dollars each. Customers who purchase one will receive a monthly credit for the next 25 years.
Anderson said the panels will pay for themselves within 20 years, making the last five years all profit.
A Flint-area attorney is warning that Michigan utilities have been transferring outstanding bills to other household members and it's perfectly legal.
The bills are referred to as hand-me-down bills, and can be legally transferred to anyone in the home who benefitted from the service.
Michael Stanley is an attorney with Legal Services of Eastern Michigan. He said there are things consumers can do to protect themselves.
"If you're going to have a roommate it's important to ask them if they have an outstanding bill. In many cases these bills, by the time they get very large, have been through a collection process and turn up on credit reports." Stanley said.
Dan Bishop is with Consumers Energy. He said if an account holder doesn't pay their bill, they will look for other people who were living in the residence.
"That's where a third party or a collection agency would be involved and they use a number of resources to collect information like that." Bishop said.
Stanley said some of those "resources" include Facebook and other social media. But he warns that those sites are not always accurate.
Anyone who feels they've unjustly inherited a utility bill can contact the Michigan Public Service Commission, or an attorney.
Governor Rick Snyder's office is hosting a series of public forums to lay the groundwork for transitioning the state toward a more green energy future.
Delta College was the site of the latest discussion, attracting a number of public officials, business leaders and representatives from environmental groups.
Tiffany Hartung is the Chapter Conservation Program Manager with the Sierra club.
She said a recent report shows that using energy efficiently is most cost effective.
"For every dollar spent on energy optimization ratepayers see a return of over 3 dollars and 55 cents in avoided energy costs. One of those avoided costs comes from avoiding the need for a big new energy generation to be built." Hartung said.
Hartung said the state should maximize efficiency of current utilities as part of the energy planning process.
The governor's office has set a goal of the end of this year to arrive at a comprehensive alternative energy policy.
Michigan is seeking new initiatives on increasing renewable energy and energy efficiency.
The governor's office will be represented by the chair the Michigan Public Service Commission and the Director of Michigan Energy Office to host a series of energy public forums around the state.
Environmental groups are among those coming to the forums with agenda items they want included in the discussion.
James Clift, Policy Director of the Michigan Environmental Council, summed up the first meeting, held last week in Lansing.
"We had the ballot proposal last year that was unsuccessful, but I think, a lot of people that testified on Thursday anyway talked about the thought that we need to go farther than 10 percent. So they want to come to make some findings on how well these programs are working. Then the Governor at the end of this year in December, he's going to take this report that's being repaired and he's going to have recommendations on what he thinks should come next." Clift said.
The next forum will be held on Monday in Grand Rapids at Grand Valley State University in the Loosemoore Auditorium from 1 to 5.
A new battery could give new hope to the electric car industry.
Kettering University has received a grant to test the batteries' durability in cold weather and other stresses.
The Toronto based battery company is confident in its new product, so much so, they gave Kettering University a 200-thousand-dollar grant to test it.
Matthew Sander is a professor at Kettering. He said if the hypothesis is correct, it would lead to a new generation of batteries.
"For example you have a battery for your heart, a small battery, if it goes over then it might last for the rest of your life, you don't need to worry about recharging or anything else. You can put in your car that battery and go drive 500 miles without recharging which helps a lot." Sanders said.
The testing, Sanders said, should be complete by the end of the year.
He said the product is cost effective and sustainable and will be marketed to top car manufacturers.
The nonprofit, Michigan Saves, is expanding to offer services statewide after focusing efforts in the Detroit area.
The organization offers a low interest loan program, meant to, they say, lower expenses and improve energy efficiency.
The startup was in 2010, since then, Michigan Saves has served more than 2,000 homeowners across the state. The result, savings up to $450 per month on utility bills.
Julie Metty Bennett, Executive Director of Michigan Saves, said the current focus is on businesses in particular the food industry.
"Think about a grocery story when you walk in, there's all this open refrigeration so we've got equipment that they can install to put covers over night. They're able to access even more affordable financing and if they're able to reduce their energy consumption by 20 percent, they get $2,000 cashback from their project." Bennett said.
Bennett said, one business saved $25,000 in energy efficiency savings for one year and $11,000 in utility rebates.
Among the many tax credits set to expire at the end of the
year is the Production Tax Credit, it has supported the development of
Yesterday, Governor Rick Snyder gave a broad energy policy
address while supporters and opponents continue to debate how much
environmental and economic impact alternatives have here.
Jacob Susman is on the Board of Directors of the American
Wind Energy Association and also the Founder and CEO of OwnEnergy in New York
The association recently held their annual symposium looking
at the present and future of wind power. CMU Public Radio's David Nicholas spoke with Susman about the impact of
the potential end to the PTC.
The Great Lakes Loons are making a drive to cut energy use, water use, and waste by 50 percent by the year 2020.
The Loons have partnered with Dow Chemical and Dow Corning.
Right now Dow Diamond uses solar panels to generate renewable energy, and water-free urinals to reduce water use.
The Midland-based minor league affiliate for the Los Angeles Dodgers and its sponsors have come together to create a team advisory panel to discuss future energy saving growth. It's called the Loons Environmental Advisory Panel or LEAP.
Alex Wassel is the Director of Communication for the club.
"They're just partnering with us with some of their brightest minds to help us figure out how we can turn Dow Diamond and the Loons operation into a more sustainable kind of operation."
Wassel said the organization is still in the early stages of the process. He said there will be meetings scheduled to explore options.
He adds that there will be yearly progress reports for Dow Diamond on the Great Lakes Loon's website.
Today our series examining the ballot proposals before voters on election day continues, with a look at Proposal 3.
The measure would require Michigan utilities to meet a 25% renewable energy standard by the year 2025.
Proposal 3 defines renewable sources as wind, solar biomass and hydropower. And that's too narrow, said Rich Wells, Vice President and Site Director for Dow Chemical's Michigan Operations.
He said Dow is both a producer of renewable energy solutions, and a big user of energy and electricity. He said proposal 3 should have included nuclear power and co-generation options. And more importantly, it should have focused on energy efficiency.
"Probably the most troublesome part it doesn't include energy efficiency as a renewable energy source. Energy efficiency is the most effective and the most inexpensive form of renewable energy there is because you're not consuming energy which means it doesn't need to get made."
Supporters of Proposal three, like Joyce Stein with the Michigan Nurses Association, say the proposal doesn't discuss energy efficiency, because it doesn't need to.
"I think it would go without saying that if you're going to create renewable energy and if you're looking to go towards greener energy and being more, I think it implies to more efficient, so, I don't think you need to have a company out there who wants to build renewable energy whos going to do it inefficiently, I feel like that's kind of an oxymoron."
Stein and her organization became interested in supporting proposal 3, she said, because of what they see as the health benefits.
She said coal fired power plants are hard on the environment and human health.
"Coal produces in its emissions, arsenic, lead, mercury, it gets into our groundwater, it gets into our food chains. Um, ya know these are serious health consequences, as nurses, we're looking at, we're trading off energy for health care costs."
Stein said the Michigan Environmental Health Council estimated a price tag of approximately $500 per Michigan family to offset the costs of heart disease, asthma, emergency room visits.
Stein says for health reasons and financial ones, it's important for Michigan to pick up the pace in renewable energy production.
"Michigan currently only gets 3.6% of its energy from renewable sources. States such as Ohio, illinois, Minnesota, Iowa all have a higher standard. 20, 25%. Michigan is going to get left behind, and we continue to outsource our energy. we need to bring or standard up to the rest of the country."
Rich Wells said Dow supports renewable energy development and all the benefits it brings. But he says forcing it too fast can have the unintended consequence of higher costs and slower economic growth in Michigan. He uses the example of Dow's new solar shingles.
"The solar shingles is one of the investments we have made. And it's one we've made here in Michigan and we've created jobs around that particular unit. But as we look forward, to make those solar shingles, it's going to take energy. So the cost to make the solar shingles will go up, and we'll make that product less profitable for us. And certainly will prevent us potentially from expanding that plant, and then the jobs that would come along with the expansion of the plant."
Wells said the way the proposal is written, it's certain to carry a cost.
"Well the proponents say that proposal number three will look at ten billion to twelve billion dollars of investment for the state which meant thats how much it'll cost to get the twenty five percent renewable. Someone has to pay for that ten billion dollars so we already know that 10 billion dollars is going to get added to somebodys bill somewhere along the way. So we know that impact is out there."
But Joyce Stein, who supports proposal 3 says there are safeguards in the proposal to keep homeowner's bills from skyrocketing.
"The proposal does two things, it requires a minimum of 25% of Michigan's energy to come from renewable sources such as wind, solar, hydromast or hydropower. But it also puts in a uh, limit to the rate uh increases, to comply with this standard. So um you know, you, your utility bill can only go up one percent per year which would be about a $1.25 per month."
In addition to the cost debate of the proposal, Prop 3, like its cousins 2, 4, 5,and 6 would amend the state Constitution.
It'll remain unclear, until returns come in Tuesday night, if Michigan voters will give the green light on this renewable energy plan.
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Pete Hoekstra says federal alternative energy business subsidies are a waste of money that he would end if given the chance. The former congressman appeared friday on a statewide public radio call-in show.
Pete Hoekstra said the bankruptcy of the battery company A123 and the business troubles facing LG Chem are proof their federal subsidies were a poor bet. Both those companies have operations in Michigan.
Hoekstra dismisses the argument that without government subsidies, the alternative energy industry and the jobs that go with it would wind up in Germany, Japan, or Korea.
"Just because other countries are stupid, and think they can drive the market, we shouldn't embrace those kinds of policies. That's not who America is."
Hoekstra said it would be better to take a tougher approach to enforcing international trade rules that discourage government subsidies.
Hoekstra faces Democratic incumbent Debbie Stabenow on the November ballot.
U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow said it would be a mistake to give up on federal green energy subsidies to businesses, even though a big grant winner just filed for bankruptcy this week.
A123 filed for Chapter 11 this week. The multi-national company, with three locations in Michigan, was the recipient of 250 million dollar advanced battery grant. That led to a new round of questions about federal energy and economic policies.
Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow supports the subsidies. She said the country really has no other choice.
"We together have to make a bet on the future in innovation, and every other country in the world is trying to out-compete us, trying to win on the new energy front."
Stabenow was on a statewide public radio call-in program. She is seeking a third term in the Senate.
Her Republican opponent is former Congressman Pete Hoekstra. He said the government should not use subsidies to pick winners and losers in the marketplace.
With winter comes the joy of the holiday season, but this year seasons greetings won't be very warm for some.
The Department of Human Services announced this week a 30 percent cut for a home heating program.
The DHS's Vulnerable Household Warmth Fund will be reduced from 87 million to 58 million this year. That's a 30% drop.
Renell Weathers is the outreach director for the Michigan League for Human Services. She said the fund will no longer support weatherization and education programs.
"This is really a bad time to have more cuts, especially when you are eliminating the education programs that help our families learn how to reduce their energy. And with that you're putting money in and families are getting their bills paid but there's no education or weatherization to make sure their bills get reduced and that's the missing piece."
Weathers said the Department of Human Services secured funds to ensure families don't face shut offs. But will no longer fund weatherization programs that would, Weathers said, fix the hole in the roof.
Michigan's electric utilities have been directed by a state commission to offer their customers the option to "opt-out" of having a smart meter installed on their home.
Smart meters eliminate the need for meter readers to go from house to house... they automatically send electric usage data back to the utility instead.
But there are privacy concerns that go along with the meters.
According to State Representative Paul Opsommer, smart meters could allow an electric utility to communicate directly with your thermostat or other appliances.
He's glad that utilities will now have to provide an "opt-out" option, but he says he's disappointed that customers will have to pay for it...
"It's hard to imagine why, if I have a meter on the side of my house that's been working fine, it's in good shape, and I simply want to keep the same meter, that I will have to pay an extra charge to do nothing."
Michigan's electric utilities say the opt-out fees are necessary, because if someone does opt out, a utility employee will still have to visit their home and perform manual readings.
The exact opt-out fees have not been decided yet. Utilities have 60 days to submit their fee proposals to the Michigan Public Service Commission.
The campaigns squaring off against each other over Proposal 3 on the November ballot are arguing the economic merits of renewable energy. Proposal 3 would require utilities to generate 25 percent of their electricity using renewable fuels by the year 2025.
The fight over Proposal 3 is essentially a battle between businesses.
The question pits energy entrepreneurs trying to build demand for renewable fuels against Michigan's existing utilities.
The campaign against Proposal 3 hired former legislator Ken Sikkema to research the issue. He said an examination of existing wind and solar projects shows ramping up Michigan's renewable energy targets would drive up the cost of electricity, especially as the cost of natural gas is going down.
"It demonstrates that you shouldn't be paralyzing the state in terms of energy policy."
The campaign for Proposal 3 said that does not take into account the drop in cost as renewable technology improves and becomes more common. The campaign also said the cost of renewable fuels will be more stable than fossil fuels.
A new way to combine savings with environmental responsibility is catching on in Michigan.
Participants in the Net Metering Program surpassed 1,000 people in 2011. Nearly double what it was in 2010.
Every time they produce more than they us. the program gives consumers credits to use toward their energy bill.
Judy Palnau is with the Michigan Public Service Commission. She said participants do this mostly, through installing solar panels and wind turbines.
"There are people who believe that the price of solar panels will continue to drop so we'll see where that goes but if that happens we would expect more and more people to install solar panels and become Net Metering customers."
The number of customers is not the only thing that grew last year. The amount of energy produced also increased by 118 percent. And Palnau said that's something that benefits the entire state.
Detroit Mayor Dave Bing said the pace of the city's recovery is being slowed by delays in Lansing. The mayor said the Legislature is taking too long to create an independent authority to help Detroit and other cities keep their street lights on.
Detroit's troubles keeping streets safe and lighted are well-documented. Mayor Bing said the lighting department is so dysfunctional the only solution is to outsource the responsibility. He is getting pushback from unions and some skeptical city residents and elected officials. Bing said most of the opposition can be summed up in a couple of words.
Bing said Detroit's elected officials need to come together on plans to fix the city, and stop giving out-state lawmakers in the Legislature an excuse to hang back on helping Detroit.
"I'm very disappointed right now. We've had both June and July passed where they would at least have put it up for a vote."
Bing said he hopes the Legislature will adopt the lighting authority measure when it meets next in September.
Over 175 Michigan residents and businesses have endorsed a new ballot initiative to increase renewable energy use.
The Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association is a non profit organization that has endorsed the proposal.
The initiative would require Michigan utilities to get 25 percent of their electricity from wind, solar, biomass or hydropower by the year 2025.
John Sarver, the Executive Director for the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association, said Michigan has a goal of 10 percent by the year 2015 already.
"What I found encouraging is that there's actually more potential projects out there than really we need for the 10 percent goal. So I expect that we will see more in order to meet that higher goal of 25 percent."
Sarver said the new proposal will also help create new businesses and more jobs in the industry.
Governor Rick Snyder has declared an energy emergency in parts of the Upper Peninsula due to a pipeline break in Wisconsin.
The West Shore Pipeline typically carries three million gallons of fuel a day between Chicago and Green Bay and is the major conduit of gasoline and diesel that goes to the western and central Upper Peninsula. The pipeline was repaired this past weekend, but fuel remains in short supply in some parts of the U.P.. It has also caused a spike in gas and diesel prices.
The governor's order suspends regulations on how long fuel truck drivers may be on the road. That will allow for them to reach alternative suppliers in Milwaukee and Madison and return to the U.P. more quickly. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has also suspended driving regulations for fuel truckers.
Out with the old in with the new, this apparently is true for residents in Michigan's thumb region. DTE Energy has announced it's closing its Harbor Beach coal fired power plant.
New EPA regulations are taking effect in 2015. DTE Energy said it's not viable to install the systems needed to comply with the regulations in Harbor Beach.
Brad Van Guilder is with the Sierra Club's 'Beyond Coal campaign. He said he's pleased DTE has decided to close the coal fired plant.
It'll be much better for Michigan residents in terms of public health and in terms of addressing the rising costs of coal for our state. DTE currently is about 80% dependent on coal for generating electricity. So we look forward to further changes with clean energy.
Van Guilder said DTE is moving forward with renewable energy sources such as wind farms. DTE is proposing a farm for Huron County similar to the Gratiot County wind farm that, he said, produces twice as much energy as the coal fired plant.
The Ithaca City Planning Commission this week approved a site plan for a
new maintenance facility for Gratiot county's newest wind farm. Ithaca
City Manager Chelsey Foster talks to CMU's Amy Robinson about the
benefits wind energy has brought to the region.
The campaign to get voters to place renewable energy standards in the Michigan Constitution filed petition signatures Friday to get on the November ballot.
This campaign pits utility companies and their employee unions against energy entrepreneurs who see a business opportunity in amending Michigan's constitution. The amendment would require energy providers to generate a quarter of the state's electricity using wind, solar power or other renewable resources by 2025.
Liesl Clark is an energy consultant who supports the amendment. She said alternative energy should be part of Michigan's manufacturing future. Clark also says the mandate would help stabilize and drive down electricity costs in Michigan.
"We don't know what fuel is going to cost, but we do know that the wind and the sun are going to continue to be free."
Utilities say the amendment could force increases in business and residential energy bills if they can't shop around for the least-expensive type of fuel to generate power.
A new project is springing up in the Thumb region of Michigan, that will create thousands of jobs and reduce pollution.
DTE Energy plans to put up 137 wind turbines in the Thumb region, projected costs will be $500 million.
The group Michigan Energy Michigan Jobs supports the project.
Members are gathering signatures to place a renewable energy standard on the November ballot.
Organizers say that Michigan currently imports 60 percent of electricity from other states.
Mark Fisk is spokesperson for Michigan Energy Michigan Jobs.
"A recent public service commissioner report found that renewable energy is actually cheaper than new coal and that's good news for consumers that's good news for Michigan workers, it's good new for our air water and great lakes. So we think that this is a testament to how Michigan's renewable energy standard is working and we have to make sure we don't fall further behind in this clean energy race."
Fisk said that 30 states have already passed renewable energy proposals.
Consumers Energy is preparing for a major upgrade of its electrical grid.
The Jackson-based utility will begin installing so-called "smart meters" this summer. Consumers said the new meters mean more control for customers, but as Mike Horace reports, some lawmakers worry that the new meters will actually do the opposite.
The days of a meter reader coming to your house to check your electricity usage will be coming to an end, at least, if Consumers Energy has its way.
The company wants to install new "smart meters" on every home in its coverage area. Roger Morgenstern is the Smart Grid communications coordinator for Consumers Energy...
"A smart meter is a two-way communicating device, that allows us to speak with our customers about their energy use in ways we've never been able to do. Customers will be able to understand their energy use in near real-time, so that they can log on to a secure website and understand more about how their energy use affects their energy bill."
Morgenstern said the new meters are a huge improvement over the old, because they wirelessly transmit data about energy usage directly to the company.
The meters will also automatically alert Consumers to power outages and other disruptions...
"There will be no need to call Consumers Energy to let us know that you're out of power. That allows Consumers Energy to know more quickly where an outage is, so that we can get crews dispatched there to get power turned back on more quickly."
Smart meters are seen by electric utilities as a necessary step as they bring their electrical grids into the 21st century.
But some lawmakers are concerned that smart meters will actually end up taking control away from the customer...
"I think it should be optional, since we don't have the option to buy electricity from anybody else."
That's republican State Representative Paul Opsommer. He's concerned that the smart meters will be used to take away control from customers, and he cites what has happened in California as an example...
"The public service commission in California, where they're installing Smart Meters, recently passed an administrative rule where the power company could regulate the amount of electricity you use, and the heat that your house was set at during the winter, or the air conditioning during the summer, remotely from, let's say in this case, it would be if it was in Michigan, Consumers' headquarters. Now they have since rescinded that administrative rule because of outcry from the public. But that kind of control, from outside of someone's home, I think is simply wrong. Your home, Mike, my home, is my castle. That's kind of a long-term American tradition, and that choice, I think, is also very important."
Choice is important to Consumers Energy as well, said Roger Morgenstern. He said any programs controlling energy usage, like those in California, would be strictly voluntary...
"We are in the process of evaluating what types of customer programs we will be offering our customers, that are made available because of the intelligence in smart meters. Those programs have not been decided yet. But any of the programs that we do decide to offer our customers will be just that, they will be offerings to our customers. The customers will decide whether or not they want to participate."
Such assurances have done little to alleviate Opsommer's concerns. He's introduced legislation requiring electric utilities to provide an "opt-out" option for anybody who wants it.
Morgenstern said that already exists.
"We are offering customers the opportunity, the choice, to opt out of the meter, if for some reason they feel they would not benefit. We feel customers will receive many benefits because of smart meters, but we also want to give our customers a choice."
Another concern raised by smart meter opponents is the cost. Morgenstern said those concerns are overblown. He said customer costs will increase only if they opt-out of having a smart meter...
"We are still determining the cost for maintaining an opt-out program, because this will mean we will have to keep meters in stock and testing equipment in stock that we otherwise would not be doing. Those costs would have to be reviewed by the Public Service Commission, and the Michigan Public Service Commission is the one that will determine whether or not there will be a fee charged to customers who opt out of the program."
Opsommer's legislation, requiring opt-out options for smart meters, is pending before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Consumers Energy, meanwhile, will begin rolling out smart meters this August. The company will begin in west Michigan and gradually work their way north. Officials hope to complete the project by 2020.
Some Democrats at the state Capitol say Michigan should offer loans instead of grants to help businesses that want to break into the alternative energy field. Democrats have proposed legislation that would convert federal subsidies to a revolving loan fund. The interest rate would be linked to the number of new jobs a business creates.
State Representative Mark Meadows said any business or start-up would be eligible to apply for a loan.
"We aren't acing anybody out. It's targeted towards entrepreneurial activity, but it also can benefit every existing business in the state of Michigan."
Meadows said businesses would be audited every year to ensure they meet their job-creation targets. Those that don't would see an increase in their interest rates.
There was no immediate word on whether Republicans or state economic development officials would support the plan.
Thousands of Michigan residents hold jobs in the wind energy industry, they do everything from manufacturing nuts and bolts to building turbines themselves.
However, some of those jobs could soon be in jeopardy if congress allows a wind energy tax credit to expire...
The tax credit expires at the end of this year and so far, efforts to extend it have failed.
Some are blaming election year gridlock; others blame low natural gas prices for the reduced interest in wind.
Don Schurr is President of Greater Gratiot Development. He said wind and natural gas are compatible...
"Wind energy and natural gas will have a relative parity. If we don't make the stuff here, they're going to bring it in from China. They're going to bring it in from wherever it's necessary. Why don't we do it?"
Gratiot County is home to more than 100 wind turbines, and many more are planned.
A bi-partisan group of Senators plans to push for the extension again, after they return from the Easter recess next week.
Michigan and four other Great Lakes states as well as the federal government have joined a wind energy compact. It's an initial step toward developing a common set of rules for offshore wind farms.
A harmonized set of standards could avoid a lot of controversies as offshore wind farms that may cross state borders become a viable option for generating electricity, said Ken Silfven, a press secretary for Governor Rick Snyder.
"There's certainly the potential for duplication and delayed review times and needlessly add costs and drag things out not just from a taxpayer perspective, but for developers as well."
"Now you're talking some real dollars so, I don't know, it could be a lot of money."
That's wind energy consultant Liesl Clark, who says there's a potential windfall for taxpayers because developers would have to lease the bottomlands of the Great Lakes, which belong to the public. How much revenue would depend on each state's rules.
Gas prices have been on the rise across much of Michigan this week. According to the Triple-A, motorists statewide are paying $3.97 per gallon, and prices as high as $4.15 per gallon have been reported.
Mike Horace spoke with U-S Senator Carl Levin about the high gas and oil prices and asked him who is to blame...
"Well, part of the blame at least belongs with the excessive speculation which has been tolerated here. We had an investigation a couple years ago, and we had a more recent investigation about the role of speculation and driving up the price of oil and other commodities when oil was $70 a barrel. It was the finding of our subcommittee, and we did an extensive investigation, that about $20 of the $70 was due to excessive speculation. Now what's happened, speculators have basically taken over what's called the futures market."
The futures market allows participants to buy and sell things like oil for future delivery at a set cost. This can bring some certainty to industries like agriculture -- where so much is already unpredictable.
Levin said the current spike in oil and gas prices is directly tied to those futures and not to supply and demand.
"This is not a supply and demand issue, let me just, first of all, assure you of that. Because we have a greater supply than we've had, we have a lower demand than we've had. So supply is actually up. We're seeing that we're using less gas and less oil than we have before, so market forces are not contributing to this at all. What it is is psychology in part, but it's also the role of the speculators that have taken over a big chunk of the futures market."
According to Levin, when you enter the futures market, you're essentially betting that the price of oil will either go up or down. He said there are many more bets for up right now than for down and that's part of the problem...
"The people who are betting that the price will go up outnumber the people who will bet that the price is going down by 12 to 1. And when you have that kind of an imbalance, betters who are betting on something going up by that kind of a disproportion, it drives up the price of oil itself."
Levin said there are several ways to combat over-speculation, including tapping into the nation's strategic oil reserves or declaring an "economic emergency..."
"There's an emergency power which could be used by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. They would have to declare some kind of an economic emergency. Many of us, including myself, have urged that they do exactly that."
Levin said such a declaration would allow federal regulators to impose new restrictions on speculators.
A recent report from the Goldman Sachs investment firm blames speculators for nearly 60-cents of the price of a gallon of gas.
Levin said until those speculators are reigned in, prices will continue to remain near 4-dollars a gallon.
The state House has approved a controversial measure that would end a ban on depositing yard waste in landfills.
There was a fierce debate on how to handle yard waste and whether to lift a 17-year-old ban on leaves and grass clippings in landfills. Some landfills want to take yard waste and use it to generate methane gas. The gas could be used by utilities to hit mandatory renewable energy targets.
Critics say that's the wrong approach because methane gas is a fossil fuel.
State Representative Amanda Price said land-filling waste does not encourage recycling...
"And will hurt the many entrepreneurs in this state who have and are investing millions of dollars into our economy."
Price said Michigan has 115 composting operations that would be squeezed if yard waste became less available. The legislation must still be adopted by the state Senate.
A Gratiot County wind farm will be able to power more than 54-thousands homes once a new wind transmission station is complete.
ITC Holdings Group will beginning construction on a transmission station in neighboring Midland County station in late spring. The station will connect existing transmission lines back to the Gratiot County wind farm.
Daryl Poprave is with ITC Holding Groups; the organization building the transmission station.
He said Gratiot county teamed with ITC because the transmission lines are already established.
"Now this line already services mid Michigan, so it's already servicing all of the residential population of Isabella, Gratiot, Midland, Saginaw and Bay counties. From this wind farm alone we estimate that it'll power 54-thousand homes."
When the new transmission station is complete Poprave said, Gratiot county will have better access to transmission grids.
It was only 15 years ago when the first hybrid vehicle rolled into Michigan, and now, just about everyone seems to know someone who drives one.
The question is, will electric cars catch on?
Howard Learner with the Environmental Law and Policy Center said cost is certainly an issue with electric vehicles, but government rebates and tax incentives can help.
However, he predicts it will take a while for the auto industry to "go green..."
"We need to get the policies right, but this is going to live and die based on consumer demand. And if consumers see cars they like, drive well, that look good and that help them save money, and also help reduce pollution, that market will grow."
Learner said the Michigan Public Service Commission has approved lower electric rates for drivers who charge their cars at night during off-peak hours.
U-S Senator Debbie Stabenow addressed agribusiness leaders Monday at a conference in Lansing. Stabenow chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee and is getting ready to start negotiations on the 2012 farm bill.
She said the rest of the economy benefits when farms and agribusinesses prosper.
"We know it's one out of four jobs, that still surprises people when I say that, both in Michigan and around the country, one out of four jobs and over 71 billion dollars in economic activity just in Michigan."
Stabenow said she wants to shore up federal support for agricultural research in areas such as bio-fuels. And she said farmers could use some federal help in managing the risk of losses due to weather and price volatility.
Stabenow is a Democrat who is expected to seek reelection in November.
Long lasting, rechargeable batteries are increasing in demand. Dow Chemical has recently announced it's moving forward with Japanese Ube Industries to begin manufacturing.
The two companies are working together to open Advanced Electrolyte Technologies; That was first announced in July.
Everything is set to move forward with the manufacturing of lithium ion batteries. David Klanecky is the senior business director for Dow Energy Materials. He said partnering with Ube will create more opportunities for advancement with the technology.
Klanecky said, "We really looked at, is there an opportunity for Dow to do it by itself or should we look at partnering with someone. And we chose the path of partnering with Ube, as the leading electrolyte supplier at that time and being ale to take that technology and grow it further."
Klanecky said the batteries will be used for everyday electronics. Things like laptop computers, IPad and cell phones.
He said he is optimistic it will eventually power flees.
Republican leaders at the state Capitol said they expect to wrap up work on a plan to ensure there's money to help low-income families with their heating bills this winter. Their efforts are already being criticized because they don't encourage energy efficiency.
About 600 thousand Michigan households needed heating aid last winter. House and Senate leaders said they will continue discussions to fix a problem created last summer by a court decision that forced lawmakers to find a new way to pay for the program.
Republican state Representative Ken Horn said the new program will not include money for a part of the program that pays for energy efficiency projects on public buildings.
"That is not helping low-income families. What we are doing very specifically it is very targeted, is helping the most-vulnerable families in the state of Michigan."
Representative Jeff Irwin, a Democrat, said that's a mistake.
"Shouldn't we at least continue with the projects that are half-baked and not waste hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money?"
Republicans said that's a discussion that can wait until next year.
In Amy Robinson's feature story today, the driver of the Model A also talked about the fuel economy of the iconic car, he said the old Fords were advertised for 25 mpg, the actual average was closer to sixteen miles per gallon.
On the roads today, the Natural Resources Defense Council has completed a study that ranks projected savings in individual states if and when new fuel efficiency standards are adopted. Henry Henderson of the NRDC office in Chicago said Americans will save over $44 billion at the pump, the study said Michigan ranked 14th in the projected savings would save $976 million or around $240 per household...
"So the idea is that if our vehicles in the United States are more fuel efficient, um, we will be keeping more money in the United States by spending less and less on fuel that we have to then export billions of dollars a year which the United States is bleeding."
Many environmental groups had been pushing for a 60 mpg standard, the Obama Administration is calling for a 54.5 mpg standard by 2025.
A lawsuit is being brought against the Department of Environmental Quality for approving construction of a coal-fired power-plant in Rogers City.
Anne Woiwode is with the Sierra Club.
She said the coal plant is unnecessary and would increase energy costs.
"And Again the public service commission staff determined the cost would go up an average of 76 dollars a month per customers. There's no question that when you build an extremely large, extremely expensive coal plant that the customers are going to have to pay for it.
She said aside from being unnecessary the two billion dollar plant would cause more pollution than alternatives.
We were unable to reach the DEQ or the Wolverine Power cooperative for comment.
Wolverine Power is an underwriter of CMU Public Radio. The Sierra Club said it's currently waiting for the court to set a hearing date in the suit.
Dow Chemical executives and colleges students and faculty have spent the weekend in Washington D.C. for the first U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon.
Public Radio spoke with Pat Nugent, director of business for Dow Solar, via phone from the event.
She said Dow is proud to support several key events and two student teams.
She said 20 high school teams built and designed their own energy-efficient model homes.
"And they are going to start next week giving awards for different levels of energy efficiency, or how they met the architecture, market appeal, engineering, affordability, so there are at least ten different areas that they are going to get awards on and scores."
Dow Solar's managing director will announce the winning homes October 1.
She said the Decathlon is designed to help educate everyone from Congress to students on the value of solar energy.
A joint wind power venture between DTE Energy and Chicago-based Invenergy LLC broke ground yesterday in Gratiot County.
When fully operational, it will produce over 212 mega watts, enough energy to power approximately 50,000 homes.
DTE spokesman Scott Simons said part of the planned 133 turbine wind farm is up and nearly ready to go.
"The start of generation will be by the end of the year. Right now, we have about 32 turbines erected and they haven't been synchronized to the grid yet, but they'll be in the near future, actually by the end of the year and then the rest of the project sometime during the first quarter of 2012."
Simons said this will be the largest wind farm in Michigan, and that it will produce about one fifth of DTE's total goal of 10% power coming from renewable sources by 2015. He adds that similar wind projects are under way in Huron and Sanilac counties. And there is also a purchase agreement in place for another renewable energy project to service Bay and Tuscola counties.
The state House could vote soon to let Michigan companies ignore a federal ban on incandescent light bulbs. But they could ignore the law only if they sell the bulbs exclusively to Michigan customers. That's because the federal government regulates interstate commerce.
The federal ban on incandescent bulbs in favor of more energy efficient mercury bulbs will start to phase in next year.
State Representative Tom McMillan said a Michigan manufacturer may want to jump into the incandescent bulb business.
"So I think there's a chance. There's no chance if we don't pass this. If we do, I think there's a very legitimate chance."
There are currently not any factories making incandescent bulbs in Michigan, although there is at least one making the new energy-efficient bulbs.
Capital Bureau Chief, Michigan Public Radio Network
LANSING -- Democrats in the state Legislature say Michigan's incentives designed to attract advanced battery manufacturers are a success, and should continue after the current round expires.
Democrats are calling for a return to a job-creation plan that began under the state's last governor.
Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm's job strategy focused on identifying a few emerging sectors -- such as advanced batteries -- and using tax breaks and other incentives to lure them to Michigan.
Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer says the advanced battery industry was a winning choice that's brought new factories and thousands of jobs to the state.
"Michigan's advanced battery sector is growing in large part because of the electric vehicle industry and targeted incentives that make Michigan an attractive place for companies to invest," Whitmer said.
But Republicans led by Gov. Rick Snyder are moving away from industry-specific incentives.
They say tax breaks have become unaffordable in the long term, and a better strategy is to create a better overall economic climate by reducing taxes and regulations.
A new report authored by a Michigan State University economist said there could be a short-term boom in construction jobs if Michigan energy companies switched from coal to natural gas.
Professor Bill Knudson said as many as 19-thousand new construction jobs at electricity plants would cause unemployment to dip by about four-tenths of a percentage point.
"That's a one-time impact that occurs during the construction phase. Once the construction phase is over, then that economic impact kind of disappears."
Knudson said a few thousand natural-gas jobs could remain, and there would be a negative impact on the coal industry. But Knudson's report also said coal comes from outside of the state and natural gas is in abundant supply in Michigan. The report which was commissioned by the not-for-profit Energy Foundation does not consider how the natural gas would be attained, such as through controversial method of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking."
President Barack Obama was in Holland today talking about the strength of American ingenuity and the importance of leading the way in modern technologies.
This is the President's second stop in Holland talking about the importance of investments in advanced battery technology.
Mr. Obama toured Johnson Controls this afternoon, one of two advanced battery manufacturing plants in the area. The president said he wants to see the continued growth of products stamped with the words "MADE IN AMERICA" exported around the world.
President Obama said Americans are looking for answers to tough questions about how to move the nation forward.
The president said economic stimulus dollars granted to Johnson Controls have been important to bringing job growth and new research and development opportunities to Michigan. He said the Department of Energy is looking to Holland's advanced battery plant to provide cutting edge new technology that will lead the world in storable clean energy.
Dow Chemical is hailing natural gas as a "game changer" for American manufacturing -- and is urging congress to adopt policies promoting its use.
George Biltz is Dow's vice president of energy and climate change. He testified before a senate committee this week about the economic benefits of increased natural gas use...
"The American Chemical Council estimates that a 25 percent increase in natural gas liquid consumption could create 17-thousand direct jobs, and 400-thousand indirect jobs."
Biltz said that could lead to a 132-billion dollar increase in U-S economic output.
"We turn every dollar of natural gas we use into 8-dollars of value for the economy. No other use of natural gas even comes close."
He urged senators to avoid legislating natural gas consumption, and to create a comprehensive national energy policy that looks to natural gas, clean coal, renewables and nuclear power as potential energy sources.
For more than a decade, spent nuclear fuel has been sitting on the site of the former Big Rock Point Nuclear Power Plant near Charlevoix, waiting for the federal government to take it away.
Michigan residents have paid hundreds of millions of dollars into a fund designed to do just that. Yet the spent fuel remains.
Over $30 billion total has been collected to pay for the disposal of the nation's spent nuclear fuel -- including nearly $750 million from Michigan residents.
Yet the federal government has shelved plans to create a nuclear waste disposal facility -- opting instead to store the fuel, at least for now, at the sites of decommissioned nuclear plants.
One of those sites is near Charlevoix.
Greg White sits on the Michigan Public Service Commission. He says as long as spent fuel remains on the site, it can't be redeveloped for other uses.
"We're losing the potential economic benefit of being able to reuse that beautiful property, and then we continue to incur the cost of having to maintain the waste facility at that site," White said.
The federal government was first given responsibility for the spent fuel under the 1983 Nuclear Waste Policy Act.
Over a decade later, a disposal site, Yucca Mountain, Nevada, was designated.
But according to White, since then, the process has been delayed, and eventually, was canceled entirely.
"There's no plan B. There's no backup. It basically said 'we're just going to leave the waste.' And the Secretary of Energy is on the record as having said 'we'll just leave the waste where it is for the next 100 years. It will be fine.'"
"And we're saying 'no, absolutely not.' It's not fine to do that," White said. "There's a law that says this is what you're supposed to be doing. We paid money for this. And you don't have authority to overrule a law."
White testified before congress this week, urging it to reexamine the decision not to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain.
Or, at the very least, he wants the government to stop collecting fees paying for nuclear waste disposal -- since there is currently no disposal program in operation.
Several cases regarding the fees are working their way through the nation's court system.
In the meantime, White said the site near Charlevoix will continue to sit empty, waiting for redevelopment -- and Michigan residents will continue paying for a waste disposal program that doesn't exist.
Michigan's net metering program is being recognized as one of the nation's best.
The program allows customers with wind turbines and other power generators to feed electricity back to the grid.
The Network for New Energy Choices gave Michigan's net metering program an 'A' for 2010, a big improvement over the 'F' it received in 2008.
The program allows customers to generate their own electricity, and then sell excess power back to their utility.
"You are not incurring cost, you are in fact making a little money on that," said Judy Palnau with the Michigan Public Service Commission.
According to Palnau, a variety of technologies can feed power back to the grid.
"We're talking mostly now about wind, or perhaps solar," she said. "When that person produces an excess of electricity, in other words they're meeting all their own needs and yet they're producing more, that extra then will go back on the grid and at that point, the utility, in a sense, is buying back that power from the customers."
Any power a consumer provides to a utility shows up as a credit on the customer's next monthly bill.
The legislature created Michigan's current net metering program in 2008.
Michigan's electric utilities are making steady progress towards their goal of producing 10 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2015.
Michigan utilities are now getting 3.63 percent of their energy from renewable sources, an increase of more than half a percent over the last three years.
"The increase is small but significant," said Judy Palnau with the Michigan Public Service Commission, "because the utilities are at the very beginning of implementing their projects to reach this 10 percent renewable energy standard."
The 10 percent by 2015 goal was signed into law by former Governor Jennifer Granholm in 2008.
According to Palnau, Michigan's utilities are turning to several different sources for renewable energy.
"They are looking at things like wind," she said. "That's the best renewable source that Michigan has available to it. But also things like biomass energy, and solar, as well as some hydro-electric."
The MPSC says the state's two largest utilities, Consumers Energy and Detroit Edison, have plans in place to increase their renewable portfolios drastically by the end of 2012.
Michigan's Department of Natural Resources and Environment has a turbine at their Saginaw Bay district office. Jeanine Stone-Wallace, with the DNRE, says their turbine operates only within a certain range of wind speeds.
"It turns on automatically at eight mile-per-hour winds or over, and shuts down automatically at 50 mile-per-hour winds."
Most wind turbines automatically shut down if wind reaches more than 50 miles per hour, says Bruce Frost, an instructor at Central Michigan University. Frost says current wind turbine construction can't handle wind speeds faster than that.
"Because of the design now, where it is a direct-drive gear, it typically has to shut down, because it would be like driving your car in first gear. And once you got to approximately fifty miles an hour, it would be too fast a spin. And so you'd have to shift into second gear, or you'd have to stop with your car. Same thing with a wind turbine."
Frost says the next generation of wind turbines will eliminate that problem.
"The new generation of wind turbines is going to take the heavy part off the pedestal and put it on the ground, where it belongs, using a differential to convert the power. And again, the addition of a mechanism that will work like a transmission -- so we'll have first, second, third, fourth gear. If we did have wind speeds at fifty miles per hour of sustainable wind, we'd have a piece of equipment that in fourth or fifth gear, would accommodate that type of speed."
Frost says there's a chance, too, that high winds could cause turbine blades to waver and strike their tower.
He says current turbines operate at about fifteen percent efficiency, but he expects that to improve substantially in the future.
The Environmental Protection Agency has approved the use of E15 for certain cars and light trucks. E15 is a gasoline blend containing 15% ethanol. The EPA says it's safe to use in cars and light trucks from model year 2007 and later.
Ryan Findlay, national legislative counsel for the Michigan Farm Bureau, says this will allow the US to use more renewable energy.
"The thought from EPA was, 'We're going to check the engines that are out there, and make sure that they can withstand an increase from an E10 to an E15.' So future gasoline will have a fifteen-percent ethanol blend, as opposed to ten percent. At the end of the day, that's going to allow us to increase the amount of ethanol we consume on an annual basis, which we're already producing."
Findlay says the decision is good for some of the state's farmers, whose products -- mainly corn -- are made into ethanol.
"As you look into the future, what else is going to be out there? There's cellulosic. There's some of the left-over aspects of the corn -- they refer to it as cornstover. The corn stalk itself, or the remainder of the ear, after you take the kernel of corn off. That's one option. There's some discussion of grasses or other cellulosic-type material that would be out there."
Findlay says all five of Michigan's ethanol plants currently produce corn-based ethanol.
Most gas sold in the US contains 10% ethanol. The EPA is testing cars from 2001 to 2006 for their compatibility with the 15% blend.
Wolverine Power Supply of Cadillac is going to court in pursuit of a new coal fired power plant. The company filed the action against the state in Missaukee County Circuit Court this week.
In May, state regulators ruled that there isn't enough demand for electricity to justify a large coal fired plant in Rogers City. And that there are other, less polluting alternatives to meet what demand there is.
Wolverine says it met all the conditions of the air permit. And new requirements imposed by Governor Granholm to look at cleaner sources of energy give the state arbitrary power to pick and choose which companies get permits.
But environmental groups say Wolverine has it wrong.
Ann Woiwode is with the Michigan chapter of the Sierra Club.
"Both the federal Clean Air Act and the Michigan Environmental Protection Act are very clear that alternatives can be considered when it comes to looking at whether pollution can be avoided," said Woiwode.
Wolverine is asking the Court to throw out the Governor's order and for the DNRE to reconsider the permit.
Capital Bureau Chief, Michigan Public Radio Network
A growing number of cases of people siphoning gas and electricity has led to a new law that cracks down on people who steal energy from a utility.
The illegal connections can be dangerous. Jumper cables patched into power lines expose people to the risk of electrocution. Rigged gas connections can cause fires.
And the work of investigating energy theft and turning off illegal connections can also be dangerous - including dealing with angry people.
"The key is, you've got to read it. If they're talking, you've got a chance. If they're not talking, you'd better start running," said David Heatherly, a theft investigator for DTE Energy.
"I've had 40 caliber pistols put on me. I've had knives pointed at me. I've had ball bats, dogs let out on me," he said.
The new law will make it a five-year felony to attack a utility worker shutting off an illegal connection. The hope is that will serve as a deterrent to people who want to take out their anger on utility workers doing their job.
As alternative energy becomes a larger part of Michigan's manufacturing sector, Dow Corning has entered into a collaborative effort to make alternative energy more affordable.
Scientists at Dow Corning plan to work with partners from the University of Toledo to research and develop solar technology. Silicon-based materials produced by Dow Corning are used in the photovoltaic cells that make solar energy possible.
Jarrod Erpelding is a spokesperson for Dow Corning. He says the collaboration aims to make solar technology a more affordable energy option.
"The focus of the collaboration will be to research and develop products and materials that look to reduce the cost of solar energy to make it a sustainable and economically-viable energy option globally."
Erpelding says research will take place in Midland and at the University of Toledo. The university launched a dedicated effort to research photovoltaic technology three years ago.
Erpelding adds that both Dow Corning and the University of Toledo hope other universities and business join their effort in the future.
The agreement between Dow Corning and the University of Toledo allows researchers to share data and information between their organizations, while protecting their respective intellectual property.
The governor says alternative energy is a bright spot in Michigan's economy that could burn brighter.
Michigan is home to 16 advanced battery companies, the Chevy Volt electric car will be built in Hamtramck, and the Saginaw-Midland area has an emerging solar panel industry.
The governor is also trying to lay the groundwork for a wind energy industry in Michigan.
Governor Granholm says "We really are on the cusp of something huge here. But comprehensive and aggressive federal energy legislation is necessary to keep this momentum going."
The governor says that means more federal investment in battery and electric car research -- and creating more incentives like the tax credit for buying plug-in electric vehicles that will make adopting alternative fuels attractive to consumers.
According to the American Wind Energy Association, sales of small wind turbines increased by fifteen percent last year.
Ron Stimmel is the Manager of Small Wind Systems and Legislative Affairs with the AWEA. He says exact state-by-state growth is hard to measure, but Michigan is one of the fastest-growing markets, thanks to windy conditions and a relatively easy permitting process.
"Michigan offers a pretty healthy assortment of policies and incentives to help consumers purchase small wind systems, as well. So rebates and various utility policies that help making connecting the system into the grid more streamlined."
Stimmel says small wind turbines power homes, farms, and small businesses. He estimates 100,000 of these units are now in use throughout the US, generating one hundred megawatts of power, and contributing to the energy used by homes, farms, and small businesses.
"While a hundred megawatts is still not a considerable amount of our nation's electricity supply, what it really means is there are a 100,000 neighborhoods and communities that are getting accustomed and acclimated to renewable energy right in their backyards.
Jon Sarver is the Manager of Renewable Energy for the State of Michigan's Energy Office. He says a growing number of consumers who use alternative energy sources are selling excess energy back to utilities through net metering programs.
And of those alternative energy sources, wind is beating out solar.
"Wind was the more popular option, with respect to the increase. The wind actually went from 29 in the previous year to 96 in this most recent year. So of those 137 net-metering customers, 96 of those were small wind."
Small wind turbines are those that power individual homes, farms, or small businesses.
The law guarantees utilities won't lose most of their customers to competitors if they invest in building power plants. But it also requires utilities to show there's enough demand for electricity to justify another generation plant.
Consumers Energy says a drop in customer demand led to its decision to shelve plans to build a new plant on the Saginaw Bay. House Speaker Andy Dillon says that shows the law is doing what it's supposed to do.
"It created a framework that allows for what's happening today, which is the company's decided it can't clear the certificate of need process. That's how the system's supposed to work and it will work five years from now or 10 years from now."
Dillon says Michigan will eventually need one or more big new power plants fueled by coal, natural gas, or nuclear energy. Environmentalists are hoping the delay will convince Consumers Energy and other utilities to look to other alternative fuels.
Consumers officials say the recession lasted longer than they expected and the recovery has been weaker. Also, the cost of natural gas is expected to plummet as energy companies develop new ways to tap into previously unreachable gas reserves.
That would make gas generation a better deal for utilities and their customers than coal. The company will assess the future of existing plants that would have been retired if the new cleaner-burning Bay City plant opened as planned in 2017.
But a Consumers spokesman says that also means Michigan won't see the benefits of reduced emissions. Nevertheless, environmentalists are cheering the decision, saying they hope Consumers and other utilities will turn instead to emissions-free alternative fuels.
Supporters of alternative energy say the decision to defer construction on a Bay County coal plant is good for the state.
Tom Karas is the Executive Director of the Michigan Energy Alternatives Project. He says the economics make sense, and the decision provides an opportunity to pursue alternative energy.
"As everybody's seen, the cost of wind and solar is going down dramatically, year by year. There is a tremendous amount of new technology in batteries, that Michigan is trying to be a leader in, that are also going to come into play. We have a great future ahead of us."
Karas says recent decisions not to build some proposed coal plants cast doubt on the future of new coal plants.
"There may be some environmental work that's going to be done on some
of the existing plants to make them operate cleaner and extend their
lives a little bit, but I really believe this signals an end of coal
and a turn in direction toward some really
much-more-economically-feasible -- and cleaner -- alternatives."
According to state officials, now that the Bay county plant is on hold, the only other permit application on file is for a proposed coal facility in Holland.
Consumers Energy would have been the first company to pursue a certificate of necessity from the Michigan Public Service Commission under stricter legislation that was passed November 2008.
Last week, the Michigan Public Service Commission denied an air-quality permit to a proposed Rogers City coal-fired power plant.
Now Dow Chemical has announced further testing of carbon-capture technology they have developed in conjunction with Alstom Power. Their Advanced Amine Process is designed to prevent plants that burn coal, oil, and gas from releasing carbon dioxide.
Dow and Alstom have won a contract to demonstrate the commercial viability of their process at a French coal plant, beginning in two years. The companies will contract with Electricity de France.
Ajay Badhwar manages Dow's CO2 capture project. He says the project will help limit how much carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere.
"Carbon dioxide-capture is a necessary technology that needs to be developed for the marketplace to ensure that the technology is ready when CO2 legislation comes into place. So it takes significant investment to ensure the technology is ready when the market or the world is ready to accept the technology."
Badhwar says the companies plan to make the technology commercially-available in the next five-to-ten years.
"Dow and Alstom together are working to develop an easy-to-install technology on the outlet of flue gas streams of power plants - predominately coal power plants, but it could be applicable to any types of power plant."
Badhwar says similar processes have been used in other types of facilities, but applying carbon-capture to power plants has been a challenge. The process filters power-plant emissions through an absorbent chemical solution to remove carbon dioxide before it reaches the atmosphere.
Badhwar says another ongoing project will determine what to do with carbon dioxide after capturing it.
Since the Toxic Substances Control Act became law over thirty years ago, many new chemical technologies have evolved that aren't regulated by the federal government.
Stephen Rapundalo is the President and CEO of MichBio. He says the newly-formed Michigan Coalition for Chemical Safety is encouraging Congress to reform chemical regulations to protect businesses, consumers, and the environment.
"The EPA does not have the statutory enforcement wherewithal to regulate many of these chemicals and technologies. If we're going to have regulations on the book, then the EPA should have the ability to be able to make sure that those regulations are adhered to."
According to Rapundalo, the E-P-A doesn't even have the ability to regulate a substance like asbestos - documented to be a major threat to human health. He says new chemical regulations must also have some mode of enforcement.
State Representative Jeff Mayes from Bay City represents part of a region that has been called "Michigan's new chemical and clean energy alley." He says the Toxic Substances Control Act needs to be updated in order to protect the public and to let businesses grow.
"We're hoping to become leaders in battery technology, and we want to have high standards as a country, and we want to make sure the public is safe. But in the event that each of our fifty states has slightly a different standard in terms of how you would approach battery manufacturing, it's going to make it challenging for companies that want to locate here to build batteries and to be competitive."
Battery manufacturing is just one sector affected by chemical regulations - others include agriculture, biotechnology, and retail.
"Here in mid-Michigan, companies like Michigan Sugar, and Dow Chemical, Dow Corning, Hemlock Semiconductor are part of the national effort to promote changes in this act."
Representative Mayes says the Michigan coalition is part of a national effort to reform chemical regulations.
Rapundalo says the U-S Senate is already considering reforming the regulations.
"In early December, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held an oversight hearing. The chairman of that committee is making a big push in the Senate on this topic. We're feeling pretty good that this will see the light of day."
According to Rapundalo, the coalition's efforts are meant to improve the goods that people use in daily life.
These range, he says, from food and the agriculture industry to the chemical products and by products from Dow Chemical and Dow Corning.
The coalition is encouraging Congress to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act first passed in 1976, which the group says is outdated.
The Michigan Coalition for Chemical Safety is composed of about thirty member businesses and organizations.
A Swedish energy company is receiving a grant from the state
of Michigan to set up shop in Flint.
Swedish Biogas International is one of
six companies coming to Michigan
as part of the Centers of Energy Excellence Program.
The program, introduced by the
governor and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation in 2008, received
another $30 million in funding late last month. It's intended to help build
alternative energy plants across the state, something that the governor has
said will diversify the economy and bring more jobs to Michigan.
But Tom Guise, the CEO of Swedish
Biogas International, says the plant his company is building in Flint
won't necessarily create jobs.
"Flint has an existing workforce to run the
plant. So we don't really think that there's a lot of job creation in that
because they already have operators and possibly one additional that we think
we'll be able to work in," Guise says. "But of course if we build other plants in the state,
then those will need operators to operate."
Five other companies are bringing
alternative energy plants to Michigan
under the Energy Excellence Program. Georgia-based American Process Inc. plans
to have a bio-fuel plant up and running in Alpena by the end of 2011.
Members of the Michigan Wind Energy Resources Board delivered their recommendations to the state House Energy and Technology Committee.
Representative Jeff Mayes chairs the committee. He says it makes sense to leave decisions on wind turbines - such as how far they need to be from other structures -- with local governments.
"And it's my hope that communities and I've talked to many communities around Michigan would look for a way to incorporate green energy, whether that's solar, whether that's wind in their communities going forward."
Mayes says that does not mean just large turbines, but also smaller solar panels and wind generators on homes and offices.
A separate commission is examining possible rules that would govern the location of wind turbines off the Great Lakes shoreline. Its recommendations are due later this month.