Michigan’s two largest investor-owned utilities are seeking a change in the way electricity rates are set that would effectively raise rates on residential customers and decrease rates for industrial users.
Questions over what the right balance should be — so industrial users aren’t subsidizing residential ratepayers — have been debated for years. But consumer advocates say the proposals would rank Michigan near the top nationally in the rate gap between the two classes.
The Michigan Attorney General’s Office has intervened in the cases before the Michigan Public Service Commission, writing earlier this year that the proposals would result in a “massive shift of costs to residential ratepayers” and calling them “extreme and unsubstantiated.”
“Right now, residential rates are on average 80 percent more than industrial rates. We’re the sixth-highest in the country as far as the gap between those two,” said James Clift, policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council. “If they get everything they want in these cases, our residential rates would be 122 percent greater than industrial rates. That would take us up to the No. 2 slot behind only New York.” →
Michigan lawmakers are in the process of developing a more powerful electric connection between the Upper and Lower peninsulas, which is viewed as a long-term solution to the U.P.’s growth and energy independence.
But connecting the two peninsulas — which are separated by the five-mile-wide Straits of Mackinac — is an expensive endeavor, mostly because the energy supply and demand do not yet justify the costs. Without the transmission connection, lawmakers say the U.P.’s economy is constrained.
“We’re limited for growth down the road if we don’t address the issues of where energy will come from and how we get it in,” said Sen. Tom Casperson, a U.P. Republican taking the lead on connecting the two peninsulas legislatively. “And we don’t want to be in that position.” →
An eastern Michigan transmission company has completed a $510 million project to tackle challenges of renewable-energy access and economic development in rural parts of the state.
Officials with ITC Transmission — a subsidiary of the nation’s largest independent transmission company, ITC Holdings Corp. — and the regional transmission organization say the new 140-mile “Thumb Loop” system will also lead to ratepayer savings.
The system, which was built in phases over the past three and a half years, can now support up to 5,000 MW of generating capacity. Company officials said it’s the largest project in ITC history.
It was conceived as a way to help the state meet its 10 percent renewable-energy standard by accessing wind resources in the Thumb, which generates a majority of Michigan’s wind-energy output.
“This now provides an electric infrastructure backbone that can serve the ability not just to interconnect renewables but also provide a basis to expand the region’s economy and attract more businesses,” said Linda Blair, president of ITC Michigan.
Additionally, Blair said lease payments provide another source of income to these rural landowners.
“To me, it’s a further extension of farmers sort of living off the land,” she said.
Historically, the region was served by a single 120 kilovolt line, which limited the ability to develop more wind as well as modern agriculture advancements, Blair said. →
As the oil and gas industry pushes for new laws exempting information about pipeline infrastructure from being released to the public in the name of national security, advocates say doing so could actually increase the risk for everyone.
And the lack of public knowledge about these issues — which extends to other kinds of energy infrastructure, like rail transportation and transmission lines — can place an even heavier burden on ill-equipped government regulators.
In Michigan, a dozen House Republicans sponsored a bill last week to amend the state’s Freedom of Information Act law to exempt “critical energy infrastructure information” from being disclosed, more than a decade after Congress approved similar federal rules in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Such information is defined in HB 4540 as “specific engineering, vulnerability, or detailed design information” about existing or proposed energy infrastructure. Critics say it would exempt details beyond the “general location” of what is described as “critical infrastructure.” →
Mark Barteau leads the University of Michigan’s Energy Institute. (Photo by Joseph Xu, Michigan Engineering Communications & Marketing, used with permission)
The University of Michigan’s Energy Institute is like a timeline of this country’s energy past, present and future.
The institute was founded in 2006 and built on the legacy of the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Project, a “living memorial” launched in 1948 that promotes research into the peaceful application of nuclear energy. The Ford Nuclear Reactor — decommissioned in 2003 — is located in the back of the Institute’s Ann Arbor building.
Today, researchers are exploring the latest in advanced battery technology and energy storage in new labs just down the hall from the old reactor.
Since Mark Barteau, who spent much of his career at the University of Delaware, became director of the Energy Institute in 2012, he has focused on raising the awareness and applicability of the work being done at the institute to inform policy discussions at the state level. →
Michigan Democrats introduced legislation Thursday to double the state’s efficiency and renewable energy standards by 2022.
The “Powering Michigan’s Future” bill package, announced by a bicameral group of Democratic lawmakers in Lansing, heads to committee in both Republican-controlled chambers where it faces an uncertain future.
Michigan Republicans are looking to abandon the renewable energy standard (PA 295) that passed with bipartisan support in 2008.
When the 10 percent renewable energy standard levels off at the end of the year, both Republican chairs of energy committees want to move to an Integrated Resource Plan process, saying that could drive utilities to pursue renewable and efficiency efforts if it makes sense financially and to comply with federal emission regulations.
Clean-energy advocates have said the IRP process isn’t an effective substitute for standards, which they say provide a clearer market signal to utilities and developers. →
Over the past decade, Michigan communities have been hit with a one-two financial punch. One from declining property values and the subsequent loss of tax revenue, the other from steady declines in statutorily shared revenue from the state.
So it hasn’t exactly been easy for municipalities to pursue meaningful energy efficiency upgrades intended to save taxpayer money in the long run.
“When it comes to political willingness to do energy efficiency projects, that is a very low bar. Most communities want to make their buildings and their systems more energy efficient and when you talk to them about it, you don’t come across people who say we want to waste more energy,” said Conan Smith, executive director of the Michigan Suburbs Alliance, which helps facilitate projects through the Southeast Michigan Regional Energy Office. Smith is also a county commissioner in southeast Michigan who represents Ann Arbor.
“Where the challenge arises is the financing structure. The way municipal financing structures work, it’s not likely they’re going to have a lot of excess revenue in the next decade. The question becomes: How do you get money to capitalize on these kinds of projects?” →
Activists protest a coal plant in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood in 2011. New reports highlight benefits to low-income residents from carbon reductions. (Photo by Rainforest Action Network via Creative Commons)
Low-income residents’ health and pocketbooks are disproportionately affected by burning fossil fuels, and they stand to benefit the most as states comply with federal carbon regulations, according to two new reports released last week.
Those findings run counter to coal industry campaigns suggesting the opposite — that low-income residents are facing rate increases as states and utilities comply with the Clean Power Plan, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“Clean energy really benefits everyone — this is a pocketbook and a public health issue for these people,” said Katharine McCormick, NRDC’s Midwest advocate and author of the group’s latest report “Bridging the Clean Energy Divide.”
The NRDC is a member of RE-AMP, which publishes Midwest Energy News.
The NRDC presented its report in Lansing last week at a panel discussion sponsored by the Michigan League for Public Policy, a nonpartisan policy group for economic equality that also released a similar Michigan-focused report. →
The Consumers Energy headquarters in Jackson, Michigan. (Photo by Lane Montgomery via Creative Commons)
Michigan’s first proposed large-scale community solar program is coming under fire from clean-energy advocates who say it would prevent independent third parties from developing their own programs.
Within the next month, the Michigan Public Service Commission is expected to rule on Consumers Energy’s proposed 10 MW community solar pilot program, which would be the first program of its kind from one of the two major investor-owned utilities here. Smaller-scale projects are underway or in development elsewhere in the state.
But a group of clean-energy advocacy groups have intervened in the case before the MPSC, claiming that Consumers’ proposal would “monopolize” the community solar market, as the utility seeks to prevent independent third parties from developing projects within its service territory. →
Andrew Revkin at a climate march in Copenhagen in 2009. (via Creative Commons)
Environmental writer Andrew Revkin has worked for over 30 years as an author, reporter, columnist, instructor and songwriter.
His travels have taken him around the globe, covering topics from the murder of an environmental advocate in the Amazon rainforest to interference in science communication at the White House. But his start in covering global warming in the early ’90s was the basis for an overall theme of his sustainability coverage — how we as a species will survive on earth as population surges amid finite resources.
That is the context in which Revkin started his widely read Dot Earth blog while reporting for the New York Times, which he still updates regularly. About five years ago, Revkin transitioned to the paper’s editorial pages and has also moved to academia, where he is teaching the next generation of reporters as Pace University’s Senior Fellow for Environmental Understanding.
Revkin was the keynote speaker at the Michigan State University Environmental Science and Policy Program’s “Fate of the Earth” symposium April 1. The conference schedule was filled with leading researchers on sustainability issues who all addressed the same theme that Revkin explores in his blog: How will the human race sustain itself on a planet with dwindling resources? →
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