(Photo by Eric via Creative Commons)
Depending on who you ask, Michigan’s customer choice law for electric service is either too limited or doesn’t go far enough. And the debate will very likely be revived in the legislature next year.
The question is whether the state will move back to a fully deregulated market (as it was from 2001 to 2008), eliminate any form of customer choice or maintain a percentage cap with revisions.
Michigan’s choice law, which has a 10 percent cap on customers who can participate, is seen by some as the reason behind an energy crisis in the U.P., as well as a potential roadblock for dealing with a projected capacity shortfall in coming years.
But deregulation supporters, who believe all ratepayers should be able to choose their electricity suppliers and allow competition to drive down rates, dispute both of these claims. They point to Michigan’s comparatively high rates in the Midwest and the thousands of customers waiting in line to exercise electric choice, but can’t because the cap is filled.
A drilling rig at a Marcellus Shale site in Pennsylvania. Photo by Kathiann M. Kowalski.
The Ohio Senate began hearings this week on a bill that could let oil and gas companies skirt current laws dealing with disclosure of chemical hazards to local communities and water withdrawals from the Lake Erie watershed.
The Ohio House of Representatives passed House Bill 490 in November, and the Ohio Senate could vote on the bill as early as next week. If passed in its current form, the bill could face challenges under federal law.
Community right-to-know issues
HB 490 would make the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) the main storehouse for oil and gas company filings about the hazards of chemicals used in their operations.
Currently, those companies and many other industrial operations are supposed to provide the information to the State Emergency Response Commission (SERC), as well as local emergency planning committees and fire departments. The requirement stems from the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA). Congress passed that law in 1986 in the aftermath of the Bhopal factory disaster that killed thousands of people in India.
(Photo by Ronnica Rothe via Creative Commons)
What’s the matter with Wisconsin?
That’s what many clean energy proponents are asking, in the wake of the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC)’s decisions in favor of rate restructuring that could virtually kill solar and other types of distributed generation across much of the state.
Despite significant public opposition, the PSC in November decided to approve rate cases filed by utilities We Energies, Madison Gas & Electric (MGE) and the Wisconsin Public Service Corporation, which could drastically reduce the feasibility of installing solar or other types of renewable energy for consumers in the Milwaukee, Madison and Green Bay areas.
The approvals are not final until written decisions are issued; PSC spokesman Nathan Conrad said that will likely happen in mid-December.
Similar rate restructuring proposals have been made by utilities around the country. But public service commissions have overwhelmingly not supported them, either turning down the requests or delaying a decision while demanding more study.
Wisconsin is the lone exception, according to a tally kept by the Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC).
A new combined heat and power facility (lower left) is under construction at the University of Minnesota. (Courtesy photo)
Two dangerous warning signs occurred separately a few years ago to remind staff at the University of Minnesota that the sprawling campus needed a new source of heating and electricity.
The University’s main campus, along the banks of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, is largely heated by the Southeast Steam Plant, a 1903 facility located upriver from the campus. Jerome Malmquist, the university’s director of energy management, says a major crisis was narrowly averted when a freeway bridge between the steam plant and the main campus suddenly collapsed in 2007.
Fortunately, underground steam tunnel beneath the freeway bridge was undamaged. But around the same time, two boilers went offline on a particularly cold day, an episode that sent shivers up the spine of Malmquist and his staff that had nothing to do with the weather.
This story was updated to include comments from MISO.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has delayed a proposed cost-allocation structure that would leave Upper Peninsula residents paying tens of millions of dollars annually to keep an aging coal plant open in Marquette.
In its ruling Friday, the FERC directed the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, or MISO, to provide more information about its payment methods to keep the We Energies’ Presque Isle Power Plant open under a System Support Resource agreement. The cost increases were scheduled to take effect today.
(Photo by Joel Rivlin via Creative Commons)
Whether a wind farm is opposed or embraced by neighbors depends a lot on where it is built.
And a new study finds that for rural Midwestern communities that often are confronted with dwindling populations and revenues, wind farms are seen primarily as a welcome economic development — even if developers’ promises don’t completely pan out.
“In other places, you see a lot of opposition to wind energy, and projects are being blocked,” said Jeffrey Jacquet, an assistant professor of sociology at South Dakota State University, and one of the researchers. A study done a couple years ago found that proposed wind farms encountered resistance in about 45 percent of cases, according to Jacquet. In a community on the outskirts of the Twin Cities, he said, people “are vigorously trying to block a wind farm from being constructed.”
Natural gas operations in Broadview Heights, Ohio, take place next door to homes. (Photo courtesy of Tish O’Dell)
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) is siding with two oil and gas companies in a court case challenging a Cleveland suburb’s ban on oil and gas drilling within city limits.
The November 12 motion is the latest step in a series of cases where different branches and levels of Ohio government have faced off against each other. At issue is the extent to which each can limit how and where drilling and related activities take place.
The municipality involved in the case, Broadview Heights, is among a handful of Ohio cities that oppose additional oil and gas activities within their boundaries. Earlier this month, Athens became the latest Ohio city to ban new drilling within city limits.
ODNR and the gas companies claim local governments have no authority to limit any activities relating to oil and gas. Cities say the statute on which their opponents rely conflicts with the Ohio Constitution.
A nuclear power plant under construction in India in 2013. (Photo by IAEA via Creative Commons)
Despite an aging nuclear fleet and slow development of new power plants, two young leaders in the industry recently spent three days in Minnesota working to attract college students to the field.
Their message is that nuclear has a future and that it remains the only real baseline energy available that emits no carbon and largely avoids the vicissitudes of the energy market, something that cannot be said for natural gas or coal.
Minnesota has three nuclear reactors at two facilities which produce 21 percent of the state’s power needs.
Representing Clean Energy America, an organization sponsored by the Nuclear Energy Institute, Don Hackworth and David Boortz spoke at the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State University Mankato. Hackworth is a custom project engineer for Westinghouse Electric Company in Pennsylvania and Boortz is a reactor engineer for Pacific Gas and Electric in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The Michigan Public Service Commission announced this week that it will be the first state energy agency in the country to use Property Assessed Clean Energy financing for efficiency projects at its new headquarters.
The agency will lease the building from a private owner, who has agreed to finance just under $500,000 for LED lighting, a 20 kW solar array and variable speed motors for heating and cooling.
The property owner, Saginaw Plaza Ltd., will receive a 20-year fixed-rate loan that will be paid for through the MPSC’s energy savings. It’s anticipated that the building will save more in reduced energy consumption than the cost of the loan.
“The commission thought it would be a good idea to set an example when it comes to energy efficiency,” MPSC spokeswoman Judy Palnau said.
Michigan’s Upper and Lower peninsulas are split across different MISO resource zones. Some state officials want to unify the state into a single zone. (Image via MISO)
Michigan’s Upper and Lower peninsulas are distinct regions in many ways — from geography to accents to preference for sports teams (“Yoopers” tend to favor the Green Bay Packers, downstaters root for the Detroit Lions).
Michigan also is essentially two states when it comes to energy markets. The U.P. depends heavily on electricity generated in Wisconsin (simply because of geography) with Wisconsin ratepayers picking up part of the tab for powering mining operations and other needs in Michigan.
But the expansion of mining and the uncertain future of the region’s largest coal-fired power plant have lit a new fire under a long-simmering debate about potentially uniting the Upper and Lower peninsulas into one power market and distribution system within the Mid-Continent Independent System Operator (MISO) regional transmission organization.
Currently the two peninsulas are in separate “local resource zones” within MISO, which are used to calculate adequate reliability across MISO’s footprint.
Moving the U.P. into the same zone as the Lower Peninsula could help clarify the state’s energy future and address a brewing energy crisis in the U.P.