Michigan’s capitol building. (Photo by David Defoe via Creative Commons)
A surplus of electric power in the Midwest, low wholesale power prices, a jump in retail rates, and the dramatic growth in customer choice participation in Illinois and Ohio are prompting at least two states in the Midwest to look again at the merits of letting retail customers pick their electric supplier.
On April 30 in Indiana, Governor Mike Pence signed into law a bill that among other things requires a state legislative committee to perform a study on the merits of retail electric customer choice.
Meanwhile in Michigan, which has the highest electric rates in the region, lawmakers are hearing testimony on whether to lift that state’s choice cap of 10 percent of total retail load.
The tepid economic recovery means at least one Michigan utility is seeing slow growth in summer peak demand, according to a recent filing with state regulators.
The flat demand for power for Detroit Edison was reflected in summer assessments filed recently with the state’s Public Service Commission by Michigan electric power providers as well as Wisconsin utilities serving the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
Detroit Edison predicted peak summer peak demand which was lower than 2008, while American Electric Power said its reserve margin — a measurement of available capacity relative to projected demand — was a flush 29 percent for its 5 state east region. Historically, reserve margin targets have been around 15 percent.
Southfield, Michigan was the first city to sign on to Lean and Green Michigan’s PACE district. (Photo by Sean Marshall via Creative Commons)
In 2010, Michigan passed a law allowing commercial and industrial property owners to finance energy improvements through property tax assessments.
But so far few have been able to take advantage of the program, because most cities and counties lack the resources or expertise to administer it.
Andrew Levin, a lawyer based in the Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills, wants to change that.
Levin’s company, Levin Energy Partners, launched the Lean & Green Michigan initiative in 2012 with the goal of creating a statewide Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE, district.
A PACE district allows property owners to use the property tax mechanism to pay for energy improvements. Owners voluntary take on special assessments, which are paid off as part of property tax bills.
While cities and counties can establish districts on their own, Levin said the process is complicated and involved. According to the Department of Energy, Ann Arbor is the only Michigan city that has established a PACE district independently.
“We give them the whole package,” Levin said. “We give them PACE in a box.”
A simulated control room at the visitor’s center for the Cook Nuclear Plant in Michigan. (Photo by John Grabowski via Creative Commons)
The future of a Michigan nuclear plant lies in the hands of Indiana regulators, as they decide whether ratepayers should be responsible for funding work needed to extend the plant’s life.
The Donald C. Cook Nuclear Plant in southwest Michigan needs $1.17 billion worth of upgrades to continue operating for another two decades, according to Indiana Michigan Power (I&M), a subsidiary of American Electric Power (AEP).
In 2005 the Nuclear Regulatory Commission granted license renewals allowing the plant’s two reactors to keep running through 2034 and 2037. I&M wants to bill ratepayers for 117 separate projects it categorizes as “life cycle management” necessary to extend the reactors’ lives.
In order to undertake the upgrades, the utility needs the go-ahead from Indiana and Michigan public utility commissions agreeing that the projects are needed and that ratepayers in the two states can be billed for the work as it progresses.
In late January, the Michigan Public Service Commission decided that Michigan customers can be billed for their proportional share of up to $851 million worth of upgrades on the 35- and 29–year-old pressurized water reactors. That figure represents projects that the commission decided would fall within the state’s six year pre-approval window; and it includes a 10 percent cushion for cost overruns.
Michigan customers buy about 15 percent of the 2,100 MW plant’s power, while Indiana customers buy about 65 percent. The rest is sold on the wholesale market, according to AEP spokesperson Sarah Bodner.
The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission is currently considering the utility’s request, with the fate of the plant essentially hanging in the balance.
The Palisades Nuclear Plant in Michigan is among several flagged for safety issues in a new report. (Photo via Nuclear Regulatory Commission)
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has a “ripped nuclear safety net,” according to a new study by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).
The report, by nuclear engineer Dave Lochbaum, details 14 incidents in 2012 where the NRC did special inspections at reactors and considered that the likelihood of a core meltdown had increased at least 10-fold over normal circumstances. In the past three years, 40 of the nation’s 104 reactors logged such incidents.
Lochbaum calls them “near misses,” a term that NRC spokesman David McIntyre takes issue with.
“When we conduct a special inspection this is intended to revise problems early before they become serious,” McIntyre said. “We would view these as evidence that the regulatory process works.
“We point out that none of these incidents posed any threat to public health or safety. The special inspection is done when something a little more than a routine problem happens – it’s meant to nip it in the bud.”
Lochbaum’s report acknowledges that none of the incidents posed an imminent safety threat. He told Midwest Energy News that the NRC’s approach on imminent and serious safety issues is “generally pretty good” and has improved significantly in the past decade, but he faults the agency for dropping the ball on seemingly more minor issues that could add up to or indicate very serious problems.
In the report Lochbaum compares the NRC’s current approach to a police department that investigates murders but ignores burglaries and vandalism.
Offshore wind farms, like this one in Denmark, are common in Europe, but the United States has yet to build one. (Photo by Felix Montino via Creative Commons)
When Scandia, a Norwegian wind company, announced its plans to install 200 turbines in Lake Michigan four miles from the tourist town of Ludington, Michigan, in 2009, they likely didn’t anticipate the controversy that would erupt.
After all, the project would be delivering domestically produced renewable energy to replace planet-warming fossil fuels. It would create local jobs installing and operating the turbines. A nearby pumped-hydro facility for storing backup energy sat in the nearby dunes, complete with substations and high-voltage lines they could use to move electricity from their offshore turbines to the grid.
“The developer thought, We’ll build wind farms out in Lake Michigan, hook up in Ludington, and everyone will be delighted,” recalled Arn Boezaart, director of the Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center at Grand Valley State University.
Instead, “they were basically run out of town,” Boezaart recalled.
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is arrested in front of the White House Wednesday during a Keystone XL protest. (Photo by cool revolution via Creative Commons)
Detroit resident Rhonda Anderson is heading to Washington D.C. to join thousands of people from across the nation in a protest Sunday calling on President Obama to take action on climate change, including by rejecting TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
Anderson opposes Keystone XL, which would carry Canadian tar sands oil to the Gulf Coast, but she says other Midwesterners are already being impacted in other ways by the industry.
Residents who live near pipelines and refineries already handling tar sands say their experiences raise red flags about Keystone XL; and they are also calling for increased regulatory scrutiny for existing tar sands pipelines and infrastructure.
“There are instances of tar sands projects affecting communities all across the country,” said Kady McFadden, an associate organizer for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “The Keystone we see as the biggest offender, which is why so much attention has been given to it, but we’re also giving (Sunday’s event) a local focus and face, saying these are places tar sands are already being brought and already having effects.”
A wind turbine under construction near Pittsfield, Michigan in 2011. (Photo by Corey Seeman via Creative Commons)
On New Year’s Eve, many in the wind energy industry had already assumed they had been thrown over the proverbial fiscal cliff.
Workers had been laid off even as developers were rushing to get wind-power installations up and connected to the grid before 2012 came to a close.
That assumption was based on the expected expiration of a key tax credit, which despite its off-again on-again status over the years, has helped keep the industry alive since 1992.
That’s why many in the industry were pleasantly surprised Wednesday to learn that Congress had remembered them, after all, and extended 2.2 cent per kWh Production Tax Credit into 2013.
And this time around, the credit will apply to projects that begin construction in 2013, eliminating the rush to beat the clock by the end of the year.
Biogenic Reagent’s production plant in Marquette, Michigan, is capable of annually processing 300,000 tons of wood biomass into carbon products. (Photo courtesy Biogenic Reagents)
Cheap natural gas and flat electricity demand has left the prospects for wood-chip and wood-pellet fuels barely smoldering in recent years.
But wood biomass could soon have a new role in energy production: cleaning up coal-fired power plant emissions.
A year-old company called Biogenic Reagents recently completed construction of a $30 million, commercial-scale production facility in Marquette, Michigan, where it’s cooking sustainably harvested wood into a product that can pull mercury out of power plant emissions.
The technology could enable coal plants to comply with forthcoming EPA mercury rules at a relatively low cost.
(Photo by Dennis Pennington via Creative Commons)
For Michigan clean energy advocates, Gov. Rick Snyder’s recent energy-policy address fell a bit short when it comes to where the state goes from here after voters rejected a constitutional amendment that would have strengthened the state’s renewable energy standard.
But, says Jim Dulzo of the Michigan Land Use Institute (MLUI), “Half a loaf is better than none.”
Michigan is on track to achieve 10 percent renewables by 2015 under current law set by Snyder’s predecessor, former Gov. Jennifer Granholm. The ballot measure, Proposal 3, would have raised that target to 25 percent by 2025.
Snyder, in an address delivered Wednesday from the Kellogg Biological Station in Hickory Corners — and during which he took questions via Google Hangout from audiences at NextEnergy in Detroit and MLUI in Traverse City — said he’s in favor of setting new goals for renewable energy as 2015 approaches, “but let’s set them together.”
That’s fine with Dulzo, since that is exactly what he and other renewable-energy advocates have been pushing for years.