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Posts from the ‘clean energy’ Category

Lame duck update: The Ugly, the Good and the Bad

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.

Ugly

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

MEC, ZWD urge lawmakers to send waste-to-energy bill to the trash heap

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

Historic climate march creates ripples of hope

With the sun setting on the New York City skyline behind us, Bill Latka, a filmmaker and leader of the Traverse City chapter of 350.org, read the following passage over the loudspeaker to the 55 exhausted and exhilarated travelers as we began our 18-hour bus ride home: “Organizing a big march is like throwing a rock in a pond: the splash is exciting, but the real beauty is in the ripples.” It was written by one of the organizers of the People’s Climate March, and it rings so true.

The march was exciting, and it was the kind of big splash that can turn the tide of a movement. There were more than 400,000 people marching through the streets of New York. There were so many people that we filled a city street for four miles. There were so many people that those of us in the middle of the pack didn’t even start marching until two hours after the march had begun.

The march was led by indigenous people and frontline communities—the people first- and most-impacted by climate change. Joining them were New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon, former Vice President Al Gore, and celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio. Filling the streets were parents with babies, elementary school classes, senior citizens, marching bands, artists, and 50,000 college students. There were people from all over the world and the U.S., including six busloads of people from Michigan. This really was a people’s march.

Kate and Elizabeth

Elizabeth Dell of the Citizens Climate Lobby (left) and MEC's Kate Madigan.

On my bus were physicians, teachers, parents, store clerks, retired couples and college students. We chose to sleep two consecutive nights on a bus because we had to get back to our jobs, classes, and young children. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.
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5 reasons Michigan utilities should give us solar

The Michigan Public Service Commission recently issued a report summarizing the work of a group assembled to find ways to deploy more solar power in Michigan. The report offers possibilities for expanding the small programs offered by Michigan’s two biggest utilities for customers who want to generate solar power at home, but it doesn’t compel the utilities to take any action.

However, the commission any day will issue an order on Consumers Energy’s plans for renewable power – one that could have some legal teeth. MEC and other allies are urging the commission to use the opportunity to order Consumers and DTE Energy to expand their solar offerings.

If you support clean solar power for Michigan, we urge you to share your thoughts with the commission and the utilities. It’s quick and easy – just fill out this very brief form.

And if you need some convincing, below are the top five reasons—and there are many others not listed here—why it’s so important that Michigan’s two biggest utilities expand their solar power programs.

  1. We’ve already paid for it. DTE and Consumers together are sitting on about $26 million in surcharges they’ve already collected from Michigan customers. That’s because they overestimated the cost of developing renewable energy projects. Read more

A clean power plan for Michigan

Many of us working on energy and climate policy looked forward to June 2 like it was Christmas morning. That was the date set for the EPA to announce a new draft rule to cut carbon pollution from power plants, building on the Clean Power Plan President Obama drafted last summer.

Now that we’ve had a couple of weeks to dig into the rule, does it match the hype leading up to it? On one hand, yes: It is undoubtedly the most significant action the U.S. government has taken to address climate change, and it should yield economic benefits and job creation.

On the other hand, the reality of the rule’s impact—at least in Michigan—does not match the sky-is-falling rhetoric opponents to carbon regulation have used to describe it. The rule reaffirms the action Michigan took in 2008 by passing Public Act 295, and meshes well with the clean-energy discussion started by Governor Snyder in 2013.

Still, Michigan will not achieve the required carbon reductions with a business-as-usual approach. We will need to be more aggressive in our transition to renewable energy and in reducing energy waste. Fortunately, MEC is already taking part in discussions in Lansing to outline the next steps for Michigan’s clean energy programs. Read more

New Public Service Commission analysis: Renewable electricity 26% cheaper than coal

Wind turbine near Pigeon, MI

Electricity from renewable clean energy sources in Michigan is at least 26 percent less expensive than comparable coal-fired electricity according to an annual analysis by the Michigan Public Service Commission released this week.

The report also says that state utilities are going to meet the 10 percent renewable electricity goal by the target date of 2015. The highlights are documented in the MPSC’s press release.

The most recent clean energy contracts – primarily wind-powered electricity – are half as expensive as just five years ago, the report concludes. The report uses “levelized cost,” which accounts for initial capital, discount rate, as well as the costs of continuous operation, fuel, and maintenance. Renewable electricity costs are just under $79 per kilowatt hour. Coal costs are $133 according to the MPSC’s estimate, or $107 using Consumers Energy’s figures.

The figures do not take into account “externalized costs” that aren’t reflected in rates – for example, the health care expenses due to coal-burning pollutants are not factored into the figures.

The costs for clean electricity are so low that Consumers Energy is seeking to eliminate its renewable energy surcharge, and Detroit Edison has lowered theirs from $3/mo to 43 cents.

Will hard data dissuade defenders of the status quo from continuing to claim that renewable energy is too expensive? Of course not. Will it be a critical factor in Gov. Rick Snyder’s eventual proposal – expected late this year or early next – on where to go next with renewable energy development? We suspect so.

You can let the governor know you want more of the cheapest and cleanest energy sources by contacting him here.  And you can tell your state rep and senator the same thing here and here.

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Sarah Mullkoff hired to lead MEC’s energy policy work

Sarah Mullkoff

Sarah Mullkoff

Sarah Mullkoff has been hired as energy program director for the Michigan Environmental Council, the organization’s president, Chris Kolb, announced last week.

Mullkoff has worked in natural resource policy in a variety of capacities, most recently as energy & climate policy coordinator with the National Wildlife Federation. There, she advanced clean energy policies and carbon reduction campaigns for NWF’s six-state Midwest region.

She previously worked for Clean Water Action as Michigan campaigns coordinator; serves on boards of directors for the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association and the Michigan Student Sustainability Coalition; and volunteers for social and environmental justice causes. She also serves on the steering committee for RE-AMP, a 160-strong coalition of Midwest nonprofits and foundations working on energy policy and climate change.

Mullkoff is a graduate of Michigan State University’s James Madison School of Public Policy with a major in International Relations and specialization in Science, Technology, Environment and Public Policy. Read more

Friday linkaround: Big week for cyclists and the DNR finds a lost toddler!

Good Friday everyone! Here are some items of interest from the week that’s drawing to a close:

It was a big week for our friends at the League of Michigan Bicyclists, with two legislative victories: House passage of revised right-turn signals and vulnerable roadway user legislation.

The state released this draft report last week on its findings regarding customer choice in the electric utility market. The report stays scrupulously neutral on the question of whether to expand competitive choice beyond the current 10% cap….perhaps indicating the governor will not be proposing significant changes to the program. More explanation on the choice cap is here (PDF)

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Governor’s energy hearings start on Valentine’s Day, end on Earth Day! Be heard!

Since we love energy efficiency and clean renewable power here at MEC, it is quite appropriate that today – Valentine’s Day – is the first of seven public forums on Michigan’s energy policy called for by Governor Rick Snyder.

The findings will be assembled and delivered to policy makers by the end of this year as the basis for legislative action in 2014.

The last forum – in Traverse City – convenes, fittingly, on April 22. That’s Earth Day, the day we celebrate the planet and recommit ourselves to protecting it. What better symbolism?

A little background.

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A darn good reason for Michigan’s utilities to oppose Proposal 3′s 25×2025 clean energy standard (as long as you’re not a ratepayer)

Our state’s big utilities, Consumers Energy and DTE Energy, are spending millions to defeat Proposal 3’s 25×25 renewable energy standard even though they acknowledge renewables are creating jobs and providing homes and businesses with electricity at costs far cheaper than anticipated.

Why?

For DTE Energy – which still uses out-of-state coal to provide 70 percent of its electricity generation – a story in Detroit’s Metro Times reports a pretty darn good reason for the company to be threatened by cheaper, cleaner renewable power.

DTE is heavily invested in the coal business – shipping it, storing it, processing it and moving it across the nation.

Reports the Metro Times:

“…one of its many subsidiaries, DTE Coal Services, “is one of the largest marketers and transporters of coal to third-party customers in North America. They provide a broad range of coal sourcing, marketing, risk management, transportation, rail management and trading services nationally to coal producers, electric utilities, steel companies and other industries. DTE Coal Services is also active in trading coal, emissions and carbon in the financial and physical markets.”

And then there’s Midwest Energy Resources Co., which operates an “innovative rail-vessel trans-shipment system that handles much of the Great Lakes market for low-sulfur western coal.”

Also under the DTE umbrella is what’s known as a “reduced emission fuels” operation that treats coal so that it produces less pollution when burned. According to the company’s own estimates, that operation will generate $30 million in earnings this year and about $50 million a year beginning in 2013.”

So, what’s good for DTE’s profits and shareholders is a raw deal for lowly ratepayers.

In any other business we’d call that a conflict of interest.

In DTE’s world, it’s business as usual.

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