Coal being shipped by barge on the Ohio River near Derby, Indiana. (Photo by Cathy Haglund via Creative Commons)
While coal use has declined in recent years, most states are still spending billions to import the fuel for electricity generation, according to a new study.
Thirty-seven states spent $19.4 billion in 2012 importing 433 million tons of coal from other states and other countries, according to the report, “Burning Coal, Burning Cash,” released this week by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The study, an update to a comprehensive 2010 investigation by the UCS, shows that between 2008 and 2012 coal imports actually dropped significantly – especially from other countries — because of the shift to natural gas and wind as power sources and also due to flat-lining power demand.
Construction of an offshore wind turbine off the coast of England in 2010. (Photo by DECC via Creative Commons)
Offshore wind energy development in the Great Lakes could create thousands of manufacturing and construction jobs in the region — if lawmakers get the policy right.
A new report by an Illinois economist concludes that the economic impact of offshore wind farms in the Great Lakes greatly depends on whether the industry can grow at a steady pace.
Offshore wind developers are more likely to open regional offices and manufacturing facilities if they view the Great Lakes as an opportunity for sustained, long-term growth, it says.
But if incentives and permitting turn out to be as choppy as Lake Superior during a wind storm, those companies would probably import parts and expertise from elsewhere instead.
Michigan clean water advocates say coal ash storage sites, like the ones at the Trenton Channel power plant near Detroit, aren’t being monitored closely enough. (Photo by rexp2 via Creative Commons)
With the U.S. EPA now more than four years into the process of developing regulations for coal ash, a Michigan environmental group says an ongoing lack of oversight raises serious safety questions.
In a report released today, Clean Water Action highlights 29 coal ash disposal sites in Michigan. Of those, 12 are known to be contaminated or “likely contaminated” with toxins including arsenic, lead and mercury. An additional six sites where ash has been historically disposed are classified as contaminated brownfields by the state.
The report, Toxic Trash Exposed, also notes that all 29 of those sites are on or near water supplies, with 19 of those within five miles of a Great Lakes shoreline.
Environmental groups have long been concerned about the potential impact of an oil spill beneath the Straits of Mackinac. (Photo by Joel Dinda via Creative Commons)
When a ruptured pipeline spilled 20,000 barrels of oil into a North Dakota wheat field last month, a state health official said it was “the best place it could’ve occurred” — far from population centers and water supplies.
But what if a similar spill occurs in the worst place?
That’s the concern raised in a video released by a national environmental group this month.
In the cold, fast-flowing depths of the Straits of Mackinac run pipelines which the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) says could pose a dire threat to the Great Lakes and the beloved tourist culture of nearby Mackinac Island.
And while Enbridge, which operates the pipelines, says it’s taking rigorous measures to prevent such a disaster, advocates and pipeline experts say a lack of transparency coupled with the company’s checkered safety record leave them unconvinced. Enbridge is the same company whose pipeline in Marshall, Michigan spilled more than 23,000 barrels of heavy tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River in July 2010 – the largest onshore oil spill in U.S. history.
The ongoing cleanup of that spill, along with the recent North Dakota incident, have elevated worries that current regulations and industry safeguards aren’t strong enough to prevent another disaster.
Wayne County, which includes Detroit, may soon sign on to a growing Michigan clean-energy financing program. (Photo by James Marvin Phelps via Creative Commons)
A unique clean-energy financing program in Michigan has expanded in size to serve nearly 1.5 million residents, and is poised to add the state’s most populous county.
Lean & Green Michigan, which Midwest Energy News profiled in April, is a private initiative to help cities and counties set up districts to administer Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE, programs.
PACE programs enable property owners to finance efficiency upgrades and other energy improvements through a property tax assessment — meaning the debt stays with the property, rather than the owner, an arrangement that provides greater security for lenders.
While Michigan has allowed PACE financing since 2010, few jurisdictions have the resources or expertise to administer the programs — so far, Ann Arbor is the only city to set up a district on its own.
Lean & Green Michigan provides that service, which founder Andrew Levin dubs “PACE in a box.”
Wind turbines near Alma, Michigan. (Photo by Corey Seeman via Creative Commons)
A regulatory process lacking in transparency makes it difficult to tell whether Michigan consumers are getting the best possible deal on wind energy, say legal experts involved in cases filed with the state’s Public Service Commission.
The cost of wind power has fallen farther and faster than many predicted since Michigan approved a 2008 law requiring utilities to produce 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2015.
“But it could be better if the commission was more vigorously watchdogging the market and regulating in a way that would allow competition in the marketplace to drive costs down even further,” said Chris Bzdok, an attorney regularly involved in cases before the PSC.
“It comes down to: Do we have a fair and functional marketplace so the lowest-cost providers can deliver their product to the consumer?” he said. “And there are reasons to believe this isn’t happening.”
A drilling rig in the Marcellus Shale (Photo by WCN 24/7 via Creative Commons)
Calling shale gas a “great new resource of energy” that “creates millions of quality jobs,” Chambers of Commerce in 17 states are calling on the EPA to leave fracking oversight to state regulators.
In a letter sent to Administrator Gina McCarthy on September 20, the group points to Illinois as an example of states that have “passed legislative regulations ensuring that hydraulic fracturing is employed safely, transparently and with a continued commitment to environmental protection.”
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed the rules into law in June, following a monthslong process involving environmental groups, industry leaders and lawmakers. While the measure had broad support, some environmental groups opposed the bill and are still seeking a moratorium on drilling.
The letter cites individual differences among states make uniform federal regulations problematic, and also notes that “the current structure” enables states to ban the practice “if that is the perceived collective wish of the electorate.”
High-efficiency water heaters are manufactured at a factory in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo via GE)
The 2009 federal stimulus program put thousands of contractors and tradespeople to work weatherizing low-income homes and retrofitting government buildings.
A new report by a Wisconsin nonprofit suggests such investments in energy efficiency may also play a role in growing manufacturing jobs, too.
The Energy Center of Wisconsin (ECW) study was able to trace a direct link between six utility conservation programs and 46 manufacturers in the Great Lakes region.
“The finding that, at a minimum, dozens of manufacturing operations in the Great Lakes Region benefit from the small group of utility programs we examined suggests that the economic effects are widespread and could be substantial,” the report says.
(Photo by Samat Jain via Creative Commons)
New geology research says radioactive wastes are unlikely to enter groundwater from a proposed Canadian disposal site less than a mile from Lake Huron.
The research raises questions about future disposal on both sides of the border as radioactive waste continues to sit at power plants around the Great Lakes.
Ontario Power Generation is planning an underground disposal site for low and intermediate level nuclear waste at Kincardine on the Bruce Peninsula in western Ontario. The categories include most things in the United States’ classifications for low-level radioactive waste. For power plants, that includes things like contaminated equipment, clothing, protective gear, and cleaning supplies, as well as filters and reactor water treatment residues.
Starting on September 16, the Canadian government’s joint review panel will hold a public hearing on the project’s environmental assessment. Construction could start within two years, says a timetable on the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission’s website.
(Photo by eXtension Farm Energy via Creative Commons)
Consumers Energy encountered two surprises this year after it fast-tracked a Michigan wind farm project to take advantage of expiring federal tax credits.
One, the project will cost less than the utility thought it would to build, and two, technology advances mean each turbine will produce more power than previously projected.
Citing those improved economics, Consumers Energy proposed last week to eliminate a surcharge on customers’ bills that was designed to cover the cost of complying with Michigan’s renewable electricity standard.
The utility is downplaying the significance, but environmental groups are claiming a win, saying the proposal vindicates their position that utilities have exaggerated the cost of renewable energy.