Crews install a natural gas pipeline in southwest Michigan. The future price of gas is a critical variable in determining the cheapest way for states to meet EPA carbon rules. (Photo by Consumers Energy via Creative Commons)
Shifting natural gas prices are making it a challenge for states to place their bets on the most cost-effective and least risky ways to comply with impending carbon regulations.
Those prices could likely determine whether it makes sense to replace retiring coal generation with natural gas or renewable energy.
To help with that decision process, experts at the University of Michigan and a Lansing-based energy consulting firm have released a model to make that planning easier and more accessible to stakeholders beyond just utilities.
Specifically, the model considers the risks that would apply to ratepayers as states develop new combinations of energy sources and efficiency into their portfolios to meet requirements of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan.
According to the study’s lead author, the model “changes a lot of the traditional arguments” about the costs utilities and ratepayers face for achieving compliance. →
Residents of Leelanau Township, Michigan, help install solar trackers at the Northport Creek Golf Course in October. (Photo courtesy Steve Smiley)
Ten percent of Michigan’s power will come from renewable sources by the end of this year. For a small community in the western tip of the state’s lower peninsula, though, that’s not enough.
A group of residents in Leelanau Township, which includes the village of Northport, are finalizing a goal of becoming a 100 percent clean energy community. A Renewable Energy Community Plan for the area, which has a total population of about 2,000, is meant to be a template for other small towns to use.
The community is already on its way toward the 100 percent goal, with a previously constructed community wind turbine that helps power a local wastewater treatment plant. There’s also the Northport Creek Golf Course, dubbed as the first solar powered golf course in the country. Other solar energy systems are planned for local agricultural operations, wineries and government facilities. →
(Photo by Michigan Municipal League via Creative Commons)
Michigan Republicans announced this week that they do not support higher renewable energy targets and that they will seek to eliminate energy efficiency standards from state law.
Separate comprehensive energy packages emerging from the House and Senate — both of which have Republican majorities — differ on some topics, including electric choice, but committee chairs from both chambers are intent on removing efficiency standards that were adopted seven years ago. Neither packages call for a higher renewable portfolio standard, while one House Republican introduced a stand-alone bill Thursday to repeal the RPS.
State Rep. Aric Nesbitt and state Sen. Mike Nofs, the Republican chairs of the Legislature’s energy committees, say they don’t support mandates in energy policy and want to pursue a market-driven, “all-of-the-above” portfolio without targets.
Both say they support developing renewables and energy efficiency if it’s cost-effective for ratepayers through Integrated Resource Plans, which in other states are a years-long projection by utilities of their resource and capacity needs. →
Larry Ward is the executive director of the Michigan Conservative Energy Forum.
Larry Ward, executive director of the Michigan Conservative Energy Forum, says he’s always been fascinated by the idea that “somehow Republicans can’t be in line” with renewable energy.
As a consultant and former political director for the state’s Republican party, Ward is experienced in statewide politics, and is well aware that the issue has become hyper-partisan. But he doesn’t think it should be. After all, he says, energy policy affects everyone who pays an electric bill.
“I’m just always mystified that we as a political party have let it get that bad,” he said.
So in late 2013, Ward launched the MCEF as a way to give Republicans a voice on clean-energy issues — an opportunity for those in the party to speak up on the merits of the issue without being lumped in with (and cast away as) liberals, he said. The group includes some of the state’s most prominent conservative activists.
While the MCEF publicly supports an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy that includes natural gas and nuclear alongside renewables, Ward sees the benefits that the state’s 10 percent renewable energy standard has had economically. He supports removing state and utility barriers to entry for solar generation. →
Property in Sands Township, Michigan is being considered for a proposed oil refinery. (Image via YouTune / Fox U.P.)
Late last year, developers approached local officials in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula about building a 40,000-barrel-a-day oil refinery and a separate 250 MW power plant about 30 minutes south of Marquette.
Since that time, “not a peep” has been said about the project, according to Marquette County Commissioner Karen Alholm, whose district could hold the development.
“I think it’s a non-issue,” she added.
But while not much has been said about the project — the developers with Bison Oil LLC are in the midst of a months-long due-diligence phase — one expert on the topic suggests that the project could be tied to the larger energy needs of the U.P.’s mining industry. Growth in that sector could indeed make the project an issue. →
Transmission lines near Canton, Michigan. (Photo by Fred Locklear via Creative Commons)
Michigan’s Lower Peninsula faces a 3 GW electric capacity shortfall next year. But energy experts say that doesn’t mean the state needs to rush into building 3 GW worth of new generation.
Doing so, some argue, could actually put Michigan in an even worse position in the future.
The capacity shortfall — which is projected by the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) to grow as coal plants are retired to meet federal emission rules — may also present opportunities for the state to restructure its energy system to encourage demand-side solutions, driving down the need for new generation.
While details about energy supply and demand may sound esoteric to average ratepayers, the issue is on the radar of lawmakers in Lansing this year. State officials say that reliability concerns in the Upper Peninsula due to uncertainty over an aging coal plant serve as a warning to the rest of the state about how average ratepayers could be impacted without proper planning for the future. →
Editor’s note: This story was updated to include comments from MISO and Gov. Rick Snyder.
Wisconsin-based utility We Energies and its major mining company customer in the Upper Peninsula reached an agreement today that effectively ends the need for ratepayer subsidies to keep an aging coal plant open in Marquette.
Cliffs Natural Resources announced today that it will stay on as a We Energies customer until the Presque Isle Power Plant is sold, allaying the utility’s concern that Cliffs would leave for an alternative energy supplier before that happened.
Out of that concern, We Energies said it needed to keep collecting System Support Resource payments to keep Presque Isle open, despite claims last week by top Michigan officials that We Energies was “double dipping” by doing so. →
We Energies says it has made an offer to one of its large industrial customers in the Upper Peninsula that, if agreed to, would end the latest dispute over ratepayer subsidies keeping the utility’s aging coal plant open in Marquette.
The most recent dispute over System Support Resource (SSR) payments keeping the Presque Isle Power Plant open surfaced when Cliffs Natural Resources — which left We Energies for an alternative energy supplier in 2013 because of steadily increasing rates — returned to We Energies as a customer on Feb. 1.
However, the utility has continued to collect SSR payments in escrow out of fear that Cliffs would leave for a different supplier again. →
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