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Posts from the ‘climate change’ Category

MEC’s House Energy testimony: 5 takeaways

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

Q&A: With climate declaration, Brewery Vivant continues striving to “Beer the Change”

As if making delicious beer wasn’t enough to win us over, America’s craft brewers have also been strong leaders in showing that businesses can thrive while giving back to their communities and finding innovative ways to protect the environment.

Case in point: Two dozen craft brewers announced this week they had signed a Brewer’s Climate Declaration, which says the companies will take action to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and will engage with policymakers to support political action to halt climate change. Those breweries already are taking steps to reduce energy use, cut transportation emissions and conserve water, among other sustainability measures.

“It’s good for business, it’s not just good for the environment,” Craft Brew Alliance sustainability manager Julia Person told the Huffington Post. “We’re lowering our operating costs. It’s doing the right thing and having a benefit.”

So far, two Michigan companies—Rockford Brewing Company and Brewery Vivant—have signed the declaration.

In reading up about the climate declaration, we were impressed to learn that Brewery Vivant in 2012 became the first brewery in the country to attain LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. We checked in with co-owner and sustainability manager Kris Spaulding to learn more about how the Grand Rapids brewery is striving to support its community and shrink its environmental impact.

Kris Spaulding

Brewery Vivant's Kris Spaulding.

MEC: Why did Brewery Vivant decide to sign on to the climate declaration? More generally, why have you made sustainability such a priority?

Kris Spaulding: Sustainability is one of the values we founded our business on. We believe that a great business exists because of the support of the local community. Therefore a business should be an active member of the community and should strive to find meaningful ways to engage with it and give back to it. These are values we hold personally, but that we believe all businesses should be thinking along the lines of the triple bottom line.

As for the declaration itself, climate change is going to continue to impact our industry and our world so I think it is best to work towards solutions now rather than waiting for more catastrophic events to finally lead to change happening. I like that the declaration challenges businesses to innovate and work towards solutions rather wait and see what someone else will do. 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.
Read more

Labor Day Bridge Walk is an opportunity for action on Straits oil pipeline

Gov. Rick Snyder will lead about 40,000 people on a five-mile walk across the Mackinac Bridge on Monday, continuing a 57-year old Labor Day tradition.

Also on Monday—as happens every day—23 million gallons of crude oil will cross the Straits of Mackinac just west of the bridge, through a pair of pipelines a couple hundred feet below the surface.

The pipelines are older than the Bridge Walk tradition. They were installed in 1953, the first year of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presidency, when Patti Page’s “The Doggie in the Window” topped Billboard charts and the U.S. Supreme Court was deliberating whether public school segregation was constitutional.

The kids were crazy for this sort of thing when the Straits oil pipelines were installed.

They are owned by Enbridge, the Canadian company responsible for the worst inland oil spill in U.S. history – the 2010 spill of about a million gallons of tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River, which is still being cleaned up. The Straits pipelines are older than the one that ruptured in the Kalamazoo spill, but Enbridge has made public very little information on their condition. In July, the state notified Enbridge it needed additional support structures to comply with state regulations.

Enbridge was responsible for more than 1,000 oil spills in the U.S and Canada between 1999 and 2013.

MEC and other groups from the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign will be at the Bridge Walk to gather signatures from participants on a petition urging Gov. Snyder to protect the Great Lakes from a disastrous oil spill. (Signing the petition is quick and easy; click here.) We’re asking the governor to immediately open a transparent, public process under the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act to evaluate the threat posed by the pipelines and determine what actions should be taken to prevent a catastrophe. 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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WMEAC report sizes up climate resiliency in Grand Rapids

A photo from West Michigan went semi-viral last April because the scene it depicted was so novel: Why was a fish swimming past the window of a Grand Rapids office building?

The fish was exploring new territory opened up by a record-setting flood that battered the city. Days of heavy rain drove the Grand River so high that it nearly breached floodwalls and inundated the downtown area. The flood inflicted $10 million in damage throughout Kent County, drove some 1,700 people from their homes and led Grand Rapids to ask residents to help protect the city with sandbags.

More worrisome than the flood itself are projections that such volatile weather–heavy downpours, extreme heat, freeze-thaw cycles –will become more common in the Great Lakes region as climate change becomes more pronounced. Officials in many cities recognize that infrastructure upgrades and other initiatives will be essential for adapting to new weather patterns.

A report released in December by the West Michigan Environmental Action Council aims to get a conversation going in greater Grand Rapids about how to build a city that can withstand the slings and arrows of a changing climate.

The project arose when the U.S. Conference of Mayors recognized Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell for his leadership on climate change issues and granted the city $25,000 for new climate-related projects. Heartwell gave half the money to the Friends of Grand Rapids Parks for tree planting. The rest went to WMEAC–an MEC member group–to prepare a report on the city’s climate resiliency.

You can read the report online here.

We checked in with Nick Occhipinti, WMEAC’s director of policy and community activism, to learn more about the report’s findings and its recommendations for Grand Rapids.

MEC: What, to you, are the take-home points from the report? Read more

Report: Warming climate threatens deer camp tradition

This is a favorite time of year for many Michiganders: Deer season is in full swing. One MEC staffer has a freezer newly full of nutritious, local venison, while another keeps shaking his head and muttering about a big buck that trotted close but didn’t offer a clean shot.

Deer camp is a deep tradition here in Michigan, a time for new generations to learn about the outdoors and hear old stories that get better with each retelling.

It’s big business, too, particularly for rural areas Up North. Deer season draws in some 20,000 out-of-state hunters, directly supports 5,300 jobs and contributes more than $500 million to Michigan’s annual economy, according to the DNR.

That’s why a report released last week by the National Wildlife Federation ought to turn some stomachs. It lays out the risks that a changing climate poses to big game animals such as pronghorn, caribou and bighorn sheep as well as Michigan species like white-tailed deer, elk, moose and black bear. Read more

Prop 3′s ‘sky is falling’ report’s assumptions: Garbage in, garbage out

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy issued another doomsday report recently, claiming that achieving Proposal 3’s 25% renewable electricity goal by 2025 would unleash economic Armageddon on our fair state, increasing bills hundreds of dollars annually.

The report follows a real analysis conducted by experts in energy and utility regulation that we released two weeks ago. That study says that moving to 25% clean energy would cost the average residential ratepayer 50 cents a month at the outset, and save them money in later years.

Those are two very different conclusions.

For guidance, you might read a third, independent report – the Michigan Public Service Commission’s most recent analysis. It found the cost of renewable electricity coming online in Michigan right now is far below comparable costs for more dirty, unsustainable coal power.

Additionally, it found that wind energy costs were dropping steadily, while the cost of coal delivered to Michigan jumped 71 percent in just the last four years.

So it seems like simple math would suggest that buying the cheaper power (wind energy) would cost you less than buying the expensive power from coal.

An examination of the Mackinac Center’s report explains the discrepancy.

A key assumption in the Mackinac Center report is the cost of wind energy. Wind energy will supply the lion’s share of the additional renewable energy we would need between 2015 and 2025 to reach the goals established in Proposal 3.

The Mackinac Center report is grounded in the wild and baseless contention that wind energy costs will somehow skyrocket to up to 4.5 times higher than the current signed wind contracts in Michigan.

As the Union of Concerned Scientists put it in its analysis of the Mackinac Center study:

The Mackinac Center analysis “… assumes levelized energy costs for wind that range from $149/MWh to $288/MWh in 2010. These costs are 1.5 to 3 times higher than the average cost of wind contracts in Michigan from 2009 to 2011 ($94/MWh) and as much as 4.5 times higher than the state’s most recent signed wind contracts ($61-$64/MWh), according to the Michigan Public Service Commission. (emphasis theirs)

 “ …The use of indefensibly high wind cost assumptions extends through 2025 in both the average and high cost cases.”

Or, in plain English, the Mackinac Center report’s key assumption is garbage.

You can read the Scientists’ analysis and the back-and-forth between the Mackinac Center and the UCS analysis’ author and decide for yourself.

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No Olympic bikinis? News scribe’s latest jaw dropper cites Global Freezing

Detroit News editorial board member Henry Payne suggests this week that cool temperatures to start the London Olympics (“Global freezing” he calls it) will be a real downer for “media disciples of the Green Church…” who “have been frightening Michigan and the U.S. with tales of global warming-induced drought.”

The same writer invoked the visage of Nazis – those who tortured and massacred millions — in his column about Germany’s renewable energy program titled, “Sieg Heil, warmingmongers” last year. He warned darkly of coming “civil unrest” and “grim war” in the United States because of President Obama’s “radical green vision.”

He’s also the genius who wrote that, because of snowfall in Dallas last year, “global warming” had been “debunked on the grandest stage of all: The Super Bowl.”

Of course, 2011 turned out to be the ninth warmest year on record globally, and the 35th consecutive year that global average temperatures were above 20th century average. Nine of the 10 warmest years on record (dating back to 1880) have been since 2000.

What’s more, a colder Europe in the short-term is consistent with climate models for reasons that have to do with altered ocean currents and melting Arctic sea ice.

But Payne and his colleagues in the News editorial tower have little use for sources like NASA or the World Meteorological Association. Instead, Yahoo! Sports is his source: “It might be too cold for the beach volleyball players to wear bikinis at the Olympics,” he quotes Yahoo.

Detroit News readers deserve better.

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Climate change? Or hot weather?

I’m a scientist by training. I know the difference between climate and weather. So the fact that it’s supposed to hit 87 degrees today, March 21, in Lansing, Michigan, and that my neighbors are mowing their grass, that the trees in my yard are sprouting fresh new buds, and friends have been slapping mosquitoes? That’s weather.

Weather is what’s happening now; climate is the larger trend that shapes the weather. So this freakishly strange heat wave? That’s weather.

But it’s weather weird enough to make even professionals flounder for words. As my local weatherman Jake Dunne told his Facebook followers: “Once again I am at a loss for words after making the forecast. . . . Folks, we are in the midst of a HISTORICAL run of weather… an event that will put March of 2012 in the record books, not to mention a month that will be talked about for decades.”

And as my colleague Hugh McDiarmid said the other day: Summer temps in March were fun for a while. Now it’s just getting plain creepy.”

Pam Matson, Dean of the School of Earth Sciences, Stanford University and Chair, National Resource Council Panel on Advancing the Science of Climate Change, was in town last week, reiterating again that the science on climate change is in: It’s real. It’s largely human-created. She’s got a short video summarizing the latest.

She’ll be the first to admit that we don’t know exactly what all it means, or how some systems like the permafrost in the boreal forest or the ice sheets will respond. But most of the scenarios  don’t seem as much fun as a backyard barbecue in March in Michigan.

The National Weather Service recently reported that 2011 was the 35th consecutive year with global average temperatures above 20th Century averages. Now, that’s climate.

Lest you think this is just a bunch of environmentalists trying to take the fun out of a 87-degree second day of spring, take a look at how other folks are responding. Like the Arbor Day Foundation. Or the Red Cross. Or the  military. Or the insurance industry – whose job is assessing risk. Even local farmers. I heard last week that some Michigan carrot growers selling to Gerber baby food in West Michigan are buying land farther north to move their crops and keep up with the shifting climate zones.

Is this streak of record-breaking temperatures across the continental United States directly attributable to global climate change? Not definitively.

But to paraphrase a popular bumper sticker, if you’re seeing the weather pattern I am and not pondering the larger trends of climate change, then you’re not paying attention. Or possibly you’re watching this lunatic’s YouTube video. If you want to read what real climate scientists are saying, check out the Michigan Climate Coalition.

So yes, pull out the grill and enjoy an early spring. That’s weather. I’m going to enjoy it.

But don’t ignore that creepy feeling in the back of your mind either. Embrace science. Don’t be afraid to start thinking about how a spring like this twice or three times (or more) a decade will feel. Or what it will mean for ecosystems, communities and economies. Or our Great Lakes.

Start reading up on this stuff; it’s going to happen more often in the decades to come, whether we like it or not.

Brad Garmon is director of conservation and emerging issues at the Michigan Environmental Council.

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