alternative energy

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A new report says the number of people generating their own electricity in Michigan and sharing it with others is growing.

This week, the Michigan Public Service Commission released its annual "net metering" report. There’s been an 18% increase in electricity being added to Michigan’s power grid by homeowners, non-profits, and small businesses using their own solar and wind-power generators.

Kim Hansen / Flickr

As recently as a couple of months ago, construction of a wind farm in Lake Erie, off the Ohio shoreline near Cleveland, looked promising. But now some are sounding the death knell for any wind development in the Great Lakes. 

The Department of Energy estimates the country has an offshore wind capacity of four million megawatts. That’s four times the generating capacity of all U.S. electric power plants.

Michigan was among a handful of states working with federal agencies a few years ago to speed up the development of wind farms off the shores of the Great Lakes. 

Wind energy developer Lorry Wagner says leaders started looking toward the energy sector to create more jobs. He says that’s when they realized the region’s potential for offshore wind energy.

“The real resource is in the lake. And the reason for that is you get about three times the energy due to the higher wind speeds and less turbulence than you do on land," he says.

Kyle Norris/Michigan Radio

Meet the Gold family. They're modern day homesteaders. 

Their goal is to live as self-sufficiently as possible on their three-acre farm in Ypsilanti. (They often say they use yesterday's knowledge combined with today's technology.)

Two years ago they started the Michigan Folk School. The school promotes traditional folk arts and the preservation of forest and farmland.

To find out why the family started the school, and why they became homesteaders in the first place, listen to this week's Environment Report, right here.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - State officials have submitted the latest in a series of reports that Gov. Rick Snyder says will help Michigan make decisions about future energy policies.

The "Additional Areas" report deals with reliability of electricity, rates and prices, and natural gas infrastructure. Among the material is a section on the role of states versus the role of regional transmission operators or independent system operators for reliability.

Another section covers the linkage between natural gas prices and electricity prices.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - More wind and solar energy users in Michigan are getting billing credit for excess power they generate.

State regulators issued a report last week showing utility customers with their own windmills and solar panels onsite increased the net metering program's production size by 55% from 2011 to 2012.

There also were more than 300 additional residential or business customers taking part in the program last year than the year before.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Four years after raising customers' bills to meet mandates to sell cleaner power, Michigan's biggest utilities are eliminating the fees or slashing them significantly.

Residential customers of DTE Electric may see their $3 monthly surcharge fall to 43 cents under a proposal to state regulators. Consumers Energy's 52-cent monthly fee for residential customers - which once was $2.50 - could go away entirely.

Advocates say the shrinking surcharges for residents and businesses are another reason to make utilities sell more green electricity.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Michigan State University’s dairy farm is helping the university cut down on its electricity bill. It may also someday help small Michigan farms meet their energy needs.

South of the East Lansing campus, MSU maintains about 180 dairy cows. The cows produce more than milk of course. Now, university researchers have something to do with all that waste.

University officials this week cut the ribbon on an anaerobic digester. The digester takes organic waste and creates methane. The methane can be used to create electricity or meet other energy needs.

www.geograph.org.uk

Two northern Michigan representatives want to keep the picturesque shoreline of the Great Lakes free of spinning wind turbines.

New legislation introduced by Republicans Greg MacMaster and Ray Franz would stop any proposed research or production of offshore wind power in the Great Lakes that border Michigan.

It would also ban it for the future.

Critics say the bill lacks foresight.

"We think it is a mistake to limit research in this area," said James Clift, policy director of the Michigan Environmental Council. "We have a number of universities who have gotten grants to do research on offshore wind. It may be decades down the road, but to restrict our ability to even learn the possibilities there is extremely shortsighted."

Nio_nl / Flickr

The following is a summary of a previously recorded interview. To hear the complete segment, click the audio above.

Here’s an alternative energy source you may not think about everyday - sour milk, rejected batches of baby food, restaurant grease, hog and pig manure.

You get the picture, but when you mix all those ghastly ingredients together you can get energy.

In this segment of Stateside, we interviewed Dana Kirk from the Anaerobic Research and Education Center at Michigan State University.

He spoke with us about the prospects for being able to power your house with waste.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - A new report finds that most of Michigan's electricity providers are on pace to generate 10 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2015.

The Michigan Public Service Commission's annual renewable energy report released Friday finds the use of wind, the sun and other renewables was expected to have reached 4.7 percent last year. The estimate was 4.4 percent in 2011 - up from 3.6 percent the previous year.

Leah Zuber / Grand Valley State University's Michigan Alternative & Renewable Energy Center

Scientists are analyzing new data that’ll determine whether offshore wind farms are viable in Lake Michigan and the data is more detailed than any available from the Great Lakes so far.

A floating eight-ton research buoy is collecting the data. There are only three such vessels in the world and this is the first one launched in the United States.

The buoy has been anchored about 37 miles off shore for about two months now. Recently crews retrieved the first set of data cards – with information about wind conditions and any bats and birds that fly by. Scientists are now analyzing that data.

Arn Boezaart heads the Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center that’s operating the buoy. "I think we are getting data at this point that will be very useful and will validate the fact that the wind conditions at mid-lake are very promising for potential future use as a commercially viable wind source," Boezaart says.

But right now there is no clear path to proposing an offshore wind farm in the Great Lakes inside the Michigan border.

warrenski / Creative Commons

The City of Holland is backing out of plans for a potential wind farm. The city-owned utility bought the option to lease hundreds of acres in Allegan County after the state identified the area as one of the best in Michigan for wind energy potential.

But after more than a year of serious study, the city doesn’t think there’s enough potential to build the wind farm.

“When we went into this, everything looked like it was going to be a good project to pursue,” said Dan Nally, who directs business services for Holland’s Board of Public Works.

"We shouldn’t take the fact that this project doesn’t go forward that we are not supporting renewable, because we absolutely, positively are. But we will also, at the same time, get the best value that we can,” Nally said.

The wind was good, but not as strong as they had hoped. The plan was to have a 20 mega-watt wind farm-- relatively small compared to large scale commercial projects.

Nally says the utility has spent roughly $678,000 to collect wind data and study the impact on birds, bats and wetlands.

"We don’t feel that any of this money has been wasted. It’s been an investment in understanding what we could and could not do,” Nally said.

Nally says Holland is working on agreements to purchase renewable power from other wind farms, but he declined to give details until any agreement is negotiated.

Holland and all other utilities in Michigan must have 10 percent of their energy come from renewable sources like wind by 2015. Nally says Holland is still on track to meet that requirement.

user vaxomatic / flickr

Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce officials said today they opposed a ballot initiative aimed at creating a new renewable electric energy standard for the state, according to MLive. The state is currently working toward a standard that calls for generating 10 percent of the state's electricity from renewable sources by 2015.

The ballot initiative seeks to bump up that mandate to 25 percent by 2025. From MLive:

Chamber officials said any changes to Michigan’s renewable energy standard should wait until the current standard has been fully evaluated in three years.

“Michigan is already on an intelligent and affordable clean energy path because of the 2008 energy law, which passed the Legislature with overwhelming bipartisan support, said Chamber president and CEO Sandy K. Baruah in a statement.

The Michigan Energy, Michigan Jobs campaign is still seeking to collect enough signatures to get the proposal on the November ballot.

Last week, during a segment for the Environment Report, James Clift, Policy Director for the Michigan Environmental Council (MEC), said Michigan currently gets around 3.5 percent of its energy from renewable resources.

The MEC supports the ballot initiative. Clift said a new standard would continue the progress made after the 2015 standard is met (adding about 1.5 to 2 percent of renewable energy each year).

"The Michigan Environmental Council commissioned a report last year looking at the nine oldest coal plants in Michigan, said Clift. "That report found that Michigan residents have health care costs and damages of about $1.5 billion a year – just from those nine oldest coal plants. So, transitioning away from coal to clean more renewable energy, we hope will put a significant dent in those health costs that we are currently occurring. "

Utility companies oppose increasing the renewable electric energy standard saying such a standard should not be set by amending the state constitution, which the ballot proposal calls for.

Michigan Radio's Zoe Clark spoke with Brad Williams of the Detroit Chamber of Commerce about the issue:

"We’re looking at this as a protection of the constitution," said Williams. "There are legislators who can serve their full fourteen years in Lansing without having a good grasp of energy policy. And, so, to ask voters to make this decision and embed it into the constitution really isn’t fair to voters."

Legislation is being introduced in the state house aimed at supporting small businesses and startup companies in the alternative energy sectors.

The legislation is co-sponsored by Democratic State Representative Marcia Hovey-Wright. She spoke with Jennifer White.

Hovey-Wright says, "Basically it’s a revolving loan fund for alternative energy, green manufacturing which includes, wind, solar, advanced battery and biomass. The intention is to create good paying jobs with good benefits."

Michigan’s thumb region will soon be dotted with new wind farms.  DTE Energy says the project will cost about $225 million.

The 50 wind turbines to be built in Huron and Sanilac counties should generate enough energy to power about 100,000 homes.

DTE's Scott Simons says while two West Michigan lawmakers recently opposed building  wind farms in the Great Lakes, the Thumb plan has Lansing’s stamp of approval.

"I would think the legislature is behind these kinds of projects, and we're going full steam ahead toward meeting the renewable energy goals that have been set by the Legislature," Simons says.

 DTE customers will pay for the wind farms with a small surcharge on their monthly bills.

Holland BPW

The state’s Department of Natural Resources and Environment initially denied the air quality permit. That’s because former Governor Jennifer Granholm said the state must consider whether or not a community really needs more power before issuing a permit. An Ottawa County judge ruled that’s not a good enough reason to deny the permit and ordered the DNRE to review the permit application by this Sunday.

Holland BWP

Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality will not continue its legal fight to prevent the plans for two coal power plants.

The state denied air quality permits last year for two coal plants, one in Holland and one in Rogers City.  The decision was based on an executive order issued by former Governor Jennifer Granholm. She said the state must factor in whether or not a community really needs more power and consider conservation efforts and alternative energy.

Brad Wurfel is a spokesman with MDEQ. He says their decision to change course is partly because of two judges ruling against the state and partly because of the new administration.

 “Governor Snyder is in favor of building Michigan’s economy and in the case of Wolverine Rogers City has expressed an interest in additional power to realize a long term vision for increasing its port capacity, expanding its infrastructure, and they need power to do it. Right now they’re buying that power from Ohio and Indiana.”

Wurfel says it’s not an issue of whether or not the new governor is for or against coal plants. 

“Our job at the department of environmental quality is to see to it that the permits that are issued to them are in compliance with state and federal clean air statues.”

Wurfel says the state is working with Wolverine Power on their plans to build a new plant in Rogers City, and the City of Holland to expand an existing plant. He says they will still have to meet air quality standards to get the permits they need.

Construction is underway on a huge plant in Holland that will eventually produce hundreds of thousands of battery packs for electric vehicles, including the Chevy Volt. Under a new agreement signed this week, Grand Rapids Community College will help train potential employees for the company, LG Chem.

Mary Hofstra is with GRCC. She helped design this and similar programs at the college.

 “Our goal as a school is to be working with these new battery facilities and to design the curriculum needed to support that industry. So that people can come here, get their college certificate, one year certificate. Maybe it’s going to be a job training model where someone comes for a 20 week period of time to learn the basics to get into that field. It’s going to bring a lot of opportunity beyond just the few that are coming to area.”

Under the agreement, the college will train more than 3,000 employees the company expects to hire over the next two decades. LG Chem will pay for their employees’ training through payroll taxes.

warrenski / Creative Commons

Right now, the county rotates growing corn, soybeans and alfalfa on a giant, 11,000 acre plot of land where their waste water treatment plant is. They hope to lease out the land in order to add wind farming to the mix.

Mark Eisenbarth directs Muskegon County’s Wastewater Management System. He says they hope to build up to 75 commercial-sized wind turbines on the site. Eisenbarth says there are dozens of municipalities in Michigan with small turbines or even a handful of large ones. But he says this project will be unique.

“To actually get into a wind project where you’re actually creating 75 to 100 megawatts, we are not aware of any municipality, I’m not saying there’s not any, but I have not seen any yet.”

Muskegon County is soliciting proposals to create a wind farm that would generate between 75 and 100 megawatts. They expect to begin reviewing those proposals by May.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The annual West Michigan Economic forecast was held today in Grand Rapids. Hari Singh is an economist at Grand Valley State University. He expects employment will increase 2% in the region this year .