Editor’s note: Kate Madigan is MEC’s northern Michigan representative and climate and energy specialist.
Today I joined northern Michigan community leaders and Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) officials in a gym with 200 cheering elementary students to celebrate the completion of the first solar array installed on a school in Traverse City.
The morning started with a ribbon-cutting ceremony in front of the 40 solar panels on the roof of Traverse Heights Elementary School that provide the school with sun-powered electricity, educational opportunities and much more.
“The solar panels are going to help fuel young minds and provide tangible ways to engage students in math and science, environmental stewardship and career exploration,” said Amy Six-King, principal of Traverse Heights Elementary School at the event. “We are appreciative of our community partners for their leadership in this effort, which provides our staff with a powerful tool to enhance teaching and learning.”
The leadership and can-do attitude of principal Six-King, who immediately saw the benefits to the school, were key to making this solar project happen.
This effort began more than a year ago when I got together with project leader Mary VanValin, a board member of the MEC member group Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities and a retired TCAPS teacher, to write a grant proposal to put solar panels on the school. We worked with the TCAPS leadership team to come up with a plan and we quickly raised all the funds needed for the solar project.
“Excitement about solar energy is contagious,” VanValin said. “When we started talking about the clean energy benefits of solar power and the hands-on educational and cost-saving possibilities it can provide to a school, the community support for this project went through the roof.” Read more
You may have noticed a lot of news stories lately about coal-fired power plants. That’s because—with federal regulations kicking in to protect public health—today marks the end of the operating permits for a number of coal plants in Michigan, including Consumers Energy’s oldest generating units, sometimes charitably described as the “Classic Seven.”
It’s good news that these coal plants are retiring—good for our health, good for our climate and good for our pocketbooks. In 2008, when Michigan enacted clean energy laws, 66 percent of our electricity came from coal. Thanks to those laws, coal now supplies less than half our electricity. With a continued, steady increase in affordable renewable power and energy efficiency, we can shrink coal’s slice of the energy pie to 35 percent by 2020.
Unfortunately, even as they retire their oldest power plants, our large, investor-owned electric utilities are still clinging to dirty coal. DTE Energy, for example, still generates over 70 percent of its electricity from coal and continues to spend millions of dollars a year to keep old plants operating, heaping the costs onto Michigan families.
And sadly, our Legislature is doing nothing to protect Michigan residents from skyrocketing energy bills or the public health impacts of dirty coal plants. Read more
Michigan’s solar industry employed 2,779 people in 2015, a 32 percent increase from 2014, according to industry data released Wednesday.
The ranks of solar employees in Michigan are expected to swell by more than 14 percent in 2016, compared to the state’s overall anticipated job growth of .4 percent, according to the Solar Foundation’s State Solar Jobs Census.
And, the report notes, job growth could be significantly greater in the year ahead, because the hiring estimates were based on employer surveys conducted before Congress extended the federal investment tax credit for solar in December.
Michigan ranked 18th among states for the number of solar workers, up from 20th place in 2014. California took first place with a stunning 75,598 jobs and added more than 20,000 solar jobs in 2015. Massachusetts, Nevada, New York and New Jersey rounded out the top five.
Michigan came out ahead of nearby states like Indiana, Wisconsin and Minnesota, but was topped by Midwestern neighbors Ohio with 4,811 solar jobs and Illinois with 3,483.
Nationally, the solar industry employs 208,859 workers, which is more than the total number of jobs in oil and gas extraction. The industry saw a more than 20 percent increase in nationwide jobs over the prior year—the third consecutive year of a better than 20 percent growth rate. Solar installation jobs pay well above the hourly wage for the overall U.S. work force, the report says. Read more
News of the solar power industry’s growth has been so fast and furious lately that it’s hard to stay on top of it all.
President Obama on Wednesday announced $120 million in new federal investments in solar. “The initiatives focus on the Department of Energy, where the bulk of the funding will go to programs to develop solar power technology and get it into homes, businesses and other facilities,” The Hill reported.
The announcement follows a report earlier this month showing that U.S. solar passed the 20-gigawatt mark in the second quarter of 2015. (One gigawatt is enough to power about 164,000 homes.) The report predicts 7.7 gigawatts of solar will go online nationally this year alone. In the first half of the year, 40 percent of all electric generation brought online nationwide came from solar.
Source: GTM Research / SEIA U.S. Solar Market Insight
Here in Michigan, you can get a feel for solar’s momentum just by scanning the headlines. Frankly, there have been too many announcements lately to keep track of, but here are some highlights:
- Trustees at Michigan State University last week approved what—at this point, anyway—would be the state’s largest solar array. The 10-megawatt project calls for outfitting five campus parking lots with solar panel parking bays. The sun, you may have noticed, shines for free, so the university will lock in a fixed power price for the next 25 years—a move that could save the school $10 million on its power bills.
- Also in Spartan country, Mayor Nathan Triplett said last week that East Lansing and the Lansing Board of Water and Light are closing in on an agreement for a community solar project. In community solar, residents subscribe to a portion of a solar array and receive a share of the returns based on their investment. It allows more residents to invest in local clean energy, even if they don’t have room on their property or in their budget for their own solar installation. “It’s no longer a question of if, but when community solar is coming to East Lansing,” Triplett said.
- On Tuesday, officials from DTE Energy, Domino’s Farms and Ann Arbor Township dedicated what is now the state’s largest solar array. The 1.1-megawatt array of more than 4,000 panels is located at Domino’s Farms, just off M-14 near the interchange with U.S. 23. DTE also is building a 750-kilowatt project in Romulus and is planning an 800-kilowatt array in Ypsilanti. And the company has requested proposals for a project that will generate up to a whopping 50 megawatts and could be online by the end of 2016, the Detroit Free Press reports. Just to drive that point home: In about a year, what today is Michigan’s largest solar array could be dwarfed by an installation 50 times larger. Read more
Two landmark marches for climate justice are coming up in Michigan.
First up is the West Michigan People’s Climate March in Grand Rapids, organized by the West Michigan Environmental Action Council—an MEC member group—and many partners. It begins at 12:30 p.m. this Saturday, Sept. 19, at the Sixth Street Bridge Park. To learn more, register or make a donation, click here.
Then, on October 3, people from across the state will travel to the Detroit March for Justice. That two-mile march from Roosevelt Park to Hart Plaza will begin at noon and wrap up around 4 p.m. RSVP for the Detroit march and find out more here.
The Detroit march is being organized by the Sierra Club and dozens of partners, including MEC and many of our member groups. The new Michigan Climate Action Network is mobilizing people from around the state, including organizing a bus from Traverse City.
We will march for environmental justice because those least responsible for pollution often suffer the worst consequences, such as in southwest Detroit, home to Michigan’s most polluted ZIP code, where many residents suffer from asthma and cancer. Families often cannot afford to move to escape pollution from the Marathon oil refinery, toxic coal plants and other industrial facilities built near their homes.
We will march for climate justice because poverty makes it harder for people to adapt to heat waves and recover from extreme weather events. This is true in Detroit, where thousands are still recovering from last year’s floods, and around the world, where the poorest countries are suffering the worst impacts of a changing climate. Read more
MEC rallied at the Capitol this week with dozens of concerned parents to educate legislators about the negative health impacts coal plants have on children.
It was the second annual “Mama Summit” coordinated by Moms Clean Air Force, a community of hundreds of thousands of parents advocating for children’s health. Participants gathered to share key facts and personal stories to build support among legislators for clean energy as a means to fight air pollution.
MEC Health Policy Director Tina Reynolds and Energy Program Director Sarah Mullkoff helped to plan the summit and took part in a press conference and other activities. Mullkoff also led the group discussion in five meetings—four with legislative staff members and one with a senator.
“It’s wonderful to see so many parents and advocates for children here at the Capitol to voice their support for clean energy and a healthy environment,” Mullkoff said. “One of the best things state leaders can do for the health of Michigan’s youngest residents is to transition away from dirty coal plants by increasing energy efficiency and investing in more renewable power.” Read more
Spring temperatures aren’t all that’s heating up in Lansing. With Michigan’s 2008 clean energy laws set to plateau at the end of the year, policymakers are debating a handful of competing proposals for what our state’s energy future should look like. (We say “plateau” and not “expire” because, if lawmakers took no action, utilities would have an ongoing requirement to meet the existing standards.)
Gov. Snyder’s plan calls for as much as 19 percent renewable energy by 2025, along with a significant increase in energy efficiency and a shift away from coal and toward more natural gas. The Democrats have proposed generating 20 percent of Michigan’s electricity from renewable sources by 2022 and doubling the state’s annual energy savings from 1 to 2 percent.
Today the House Energy Policy Committee held a hearing on another package introduced by Rep. Aric Nesbitt, the committee’s Republican chair. The bills propose a number of actions that would turn back the clock on the economic development, cost savings and carbon reductions Michigan has achieved since 2008. For instance, they would repeal the energy efficiency standard and reclassify hazardous waste materials like scrap tires and railroad ties as “renewable” fuels.
MEC Policy Director James Clift and Energy Program Director Sarah Mullkoff testified at length during today’s hearing, making the case that Michigan needs a comprehensive energy plan that controls costs, maintains electric reliability, minimizes risks to ratepayers like you and me, promotes economic development in Michigan and protects natural resources. (You can view their presentation here.)
Here are five highlights from their testimony:
Households bear the brunt of energy costs. Electricity rates in Michigan have been increasing for years across sectors, but recently those costs have been shifted from large industrial users onto the backs of residential ratepayers. In fact, our residential rates are the highest in the region and among the highest in the country. If the Michigan Public Service Commission grants utilities permission to collect the rate increases they’re now seeking, our residential rates would increase an additional 15 percent over the next three years. On top of that, Michigan taxpayers are subsidizing a fleet of old, inefficient coal plants whose performance is well below the industry average. Read more
When we acquired MEC’s current home in 2012, we committed as an organization to operating our building in a way that embodies the environmental values at the heart of our mission.
We recently completed the newest project in that effort. Srinergy, a solar project developer from Novi, installed eight solar panels on MEC’s south-facing roof, which will generate an estimated 2,839 kilowatt hours (kWh) per year. That will offset about 11 percent of the electricity used each year in our 5,800-square-foot property, which houses 20 full-time workers (employees and tenants) along with several interns and fellows. We’ll save about $400 a year in avoided electric costs.
MEC is implementing this project with financial support from the Wege Foundation of Grand Rapids. In 2013, we invested the first installment of a two-year Wege Foundation grant in an intensive insulation project, state-of-the-art heating and cooling equipment with smart thermostats, and highly efficient plumbing fixtures and toilets. We’ve also implemented procedures to reduce and recycle solid waste and emphasize sustainability in all of our purchasing, from office supplies and cleaning products to coffee and electronics. Together, those measures earned us LEED Platinum Certification, the highest level awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council’s program for existing buildings.
The solar project will further strengthen our building’s environmental performance, as will other upcoming projects. For instance, we’re working on providing ample, convenient bike parking on site. We also have plans to reduce stormwater runoff. We’ll do that by collecting rainwater in a cistern and by replacing some of our asphalt parking spaces with more porous materials that can absorb and filter rainfall, rather than sending stormwater and pollutants straight to the sewer drain. We’ll provide updates on these projects as they develop. Read more
With Michigan’s lame duck session in full swing, we thought we’d update Michigan Distilled readers on what has been a very…interesting—yes, we’ll go with interesting—week at the Capitol.
The title of a particular Spaghetti Western film provides a useful way to sort out recent goings-on in Lansing. But one bill moving through the Legislature is so vile, odious and abhorrent that, with apologies to Sergio Leone, we have to start there.
And so, here’s a roundup of this week’s environmental legislation: The Ugly, the Good and the Bad.
There’s bad legislation, and then there’s House Bill 5205, which that chamber approved Thursday. Introduced by Rep. Aric Nesbitt, a Republican from Lawton, this irresponsible bill would amend Michigan’s clean energy law, changing the definition of “renewable” to include old tires, railroad ties and other hazardous waste.
Calling dirty, nonrenewable materials clean and renewable would be laughable, but the bill has advanced too far to be funny, and its potential effects on the health of Michigan residents are no joke. Railroad ties, for example, contain dioxins and other chemicals known or suspected of causing cancer. Read more
Update 2: The Senate did not take up HB 5205 before the end of the legislative session, so the bill is dead (for now). Thanks to everyone who spoke out against this bad legislation and in support of real renewable energy!
Update: The House has approved HB 5205. Please join MEC in urging your senator to stop this irresponsible bill from moving any further.
The Michigan Environmental Council and Zero Waste Detroit are urging lawmakers to vote down legislation approved by a House committee that would expand the state’s definition of renewable energy to include the burning of hazardous waste, warning that it would harm the health of Michigan residents and hobble the state’s growing clean-energy industry.
House Bill 5205, introduced by Rep. Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton) and approved this week by the House Energy and Technology Committee he chairs, would amend the 2008 Michigan law that requires utilities to generate 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2015. It would put scrap tires, plastics and hazardous materials in the same category as legitimate clean-energy technologies like wind and solar power.
The bill draws its list of fuels that should be considered renewable from a federal administrative rule that has nothing to do with renewable energy. In fact, the rule concerns how the Clean Air Act should be applied to facilities that burn waste materials, including hazardous waste with potentially toxic air emissions.
An amendment to the bill removed petroleum coke—an oil-refining byproduct—from the list of fuels that would be considered renewable. And some of the included materials, such as byproducts from pulp and paper mills, already were considered renewable fuels under the 2008 law. But the bill would add dirty fuels that create serious public health risks when burned. For example, it could include railroad ties, which contain dioxins and other chemicals known or suspected of causing cancer, and demolition waste including wood coated in lead-based paint. Read more