coal

Julie Grant / Allegheny Front

The coal industry and conservative politicians say new carbon rules for coal-burning power plants will kill the industry, and they warn that without coal, extreme weather events, like last year's polar vortex, could leave people in the cold and dark. But how well does this argument hold up?

DTE's St. Clair Power Plant in East China, Michigan.
user cgord / wikimedia commons

 A new report from Public Sector Consultants projects Michigan will lose enough energy production for 1 million people in 2016.

According to Julie Metty Bennett, who helped author the report, Michigan is overly reliant on coal-fired power plants compared to other states.

Bennett says many of these coal plants in Michigan won't comply with new regulations from the EPA.

“Given the age of our coal plants, upgrading them to comply with the new EPA regulations is not economically viable. Because we are so reliant on these old coal plants, we are going to lose a significant amount of our energy supply, and it takes years to replace that capacity,” Julie says.

You can listen to our conversation with Bennett above.

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The cost of electricity could jump dramatically next month in the Upper Peninsula.

Residents there might have to start paying to keep a coal plant open that isn't entirely needed anymore. The increase will be a harsh blow to a region that struggles economically.

Brimley is a little town at the end of the road on Lake Superior’s south shore. There’s a bar, a casino and a couple motels. Brimley State Park draws campers here in the summer and into Ron Holden’s IGA grocery store.

"Basically the six weeks of summer pay for the rest of the year’s bills, " he says. On the wall of the IGA are deer heads, a black bear rug, and a flag that says, ‘American by choice, Yooper by da grace of God.’

But being a Yooper might cost more starting December 1. Holden expects his store’s electric bill will be $700 a month higher and he has no idea where he’ll get that money.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Environmentalists and others are trying to rally support in Michigan for proposed rules to force utilities to make power plants cleaner.

The Environmental Protection Agency wants tougher emission standards for the nation’s power plants.

The EPA’s Clean Power Plan aims to reduce carbon emissions from power plants by 30%  from 2005 levels by 2030. 

Peter Ito / flickr

This week Gov. Rick Snyder signed laws that allow for more uses of industrial byproducts.

  

The idea is to send less material to landfills and instead recycle them into as many practical uses as possible. 

These are materials like coal ash, paper-mill sludge and foundry sand. In the past they were dumped in landfills. 

But the state has been researching ways to recycle them – such as mixing them into cement used in roads and parking lots. The law also allows for some of these materials to be used on farmland as soil conditioners. 

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Consumers Energy is suspending plans to start building a $700 million power plant in Genesee County.

The utility announced today it will instead buy an existing Jackson County power plant for $155 million.

“You know, frankly, we can look out our windows at our headquarters at Consumers Energy, look east, and see the steam when that plant is operating, which is quite often,” says Dan Bishop, a Consumers spokesman.

The Jackson County power plant has been generating electricity for a decade. As a merchant power plant, it sold electricity on the wholesale market.

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

Snyder wants less coal, but no clear energy plan

"Governor Rick Snyder says Michigan needs more renewable energy and less coal over the next decade. The governor yesterday outlined broad goals for energy policy between now and 2025. But the governor admits it’ll be difficult for lawmakers to pass comprehensive energy legislation during an election year," Jake Neher reports.

Duggan to have broad powers as Detroit Mayor

"Detroit mayor-elect Mike Duggan will have broad powers to run the city’s day-to-day business when  he takes office in January. Duggan and emergency manager Kevyn Orr have reached a power-sharing agreement that gives Duggan control over most city functions," Sarah Cwiek reports.

Murder trial for man who shot Renisha McBride

"A Dearborn Heights homeowner will go on trial for shooting and killing an unarmed teen on his front porch. A judge ruled Theodore Wafer can face a second-degree murder charge," Sarah Cwiek reports.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The City of Holland wants to get an air permit so it can build a new natural gas-fired power plant.

People have until Wednesday to tell the state’s Department of Environmental Quality what they think of the plans.

The roughly $200 million dollar power plant would help replace the city’s 70 year old DeYoung coal plant.

THETFORD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) - Consumers Energy is taking steps toward its planned 700-megawatt natural gas-fired power plant in Michigan's Genesee County.

The Jackson-based utility filed Friday for approval of a certificate of necessity with the Michigan Public Service Commission. The filing is allowed under the state's energy reform law.

Chief Executive Officer John Russell says the filing establishes the plant "is in the best long-term interests of Michigan."

Holland BPW

Michigan has a new commercial scale power plant; the first new power plant in Michigan in 25 years.

Coal is still the dominant fuel source in the state, but this plant's existence means there will be a little less coal being imported into Michigan.

At the ceremony today celebrating its opening, the Lansing Board of Water & Light sang the new "REO Town" plant's praises:

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Michigan’s first new utility built power plant in 25 years was fired up today in Lansing.

The Reo Town power plant’s natural gas powered turbines whirled to life this morning.

The $182 million plant will generate electricity and steam for Lansing Board of Water and Light customers.   The plant will generate up to 300,000 pounds of steam for 225 steam customers in downtown Lansing and will completely replace BWL’s Moores Park Steam Plant.   It also will provide 100 megawatts of electricity, about 20 percent of the utility's electric generation. 

Lansing Board of Water & Light

The Lansing Board of Water & Light say this new power plant will be "the first new utility power plant built in Michigan in 25 years."

Following a national trend away from coal, this power plant will burn natural gas.

According to their press release, the municipally-owned utility expects to cut is greenhouse gas emissions by 50% compared to the coal-fired steam and electric units the new power plant will replace. They list other benefits as well:

- Eliminate the need to burn 351,000 tons of coal compared to the steam and electric units that the new plant will replace.

- Lower mercury and SO2 (sulfur dioxide) emissions by over 99 percent, and NOx (oxides of nitrogen) by over 85 percent compared to the coal-fired boilers that are now retired.

The power plant called the "REO Town plant" will be fully operational Monday.

It's part $182 million project that also includes a headquarters building and a restored Grand Trunk Western Railroad depot for the BWL Board of Commissioners meetings.

The plant is expected to generate up to 300,000 pounds of steam for 225 steam customers in downtown Lansing, replacing the Moores Park Steam Plant. It also will provide 100 megawatts of electricity, about 20 percent of the utility's electric generation.

The Lansing Board of Water & Light offers water, electric, steam and chilled water service to more than 100,000 residential and business customers.

DTE's St. Clair Power Plant in East China, Michigan.
user cgord / wikimedia commons

There’s a huge disconnect between our use of electricity and the burning of coal. The average American’s use of electricity in a day equals 20 pounds of coal, that’s what you burn on average.

In Michigan, all the coal we use is imported from out of state.

Skiles Boyd, vice president of environmental management and resources at DTE Energy, and Tiffany Hartung with the Sierra Club, organizer for the Moving Beyond Coal campaign, joined us today to discuss our dependence on coal.

We continued our look at energy in Michigan today with coal. DTE Energy's Skiles Boyd and the Sierra Club's Tiffany Hartung spoke with us about what is being done in Michigan to reduce coal emissions and move towards renewable energy.

Also, the new Whole Foods store in Midtown Detroit has garnered a lot of attention. We talked with Kami Pothukuchi and Micki Maynard about how the store has affected the area.

First on the show, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional, meaning same-sex couples who are legally married will be recognized by the federal government. The court also ruled in a case that basically makes same-sex marriage in California legal.

But what does that mean for Michigan?

In 2004, voters approved a state constitutional amendment banning recognition of same-sex marriage or similar union. What’s the future of that amendment? What changes will there be for same-sex couples legally married in another state but living in Michigan?

Larry Dubin, a professor at the University of Detroit Mercy law school and Emily Dievendorf, the managing director of Equality Michigan, joined us today to discuss the issue.

Two utilities have been given permission to build new coal-fired power plants in northern and western Michigan. The state Court of Appeals has tossed out legal challenges to their permits. But, that doesn't mean the plants will be built.

Environmental groups went to court to challenge the permits. The state Department of Environmental Quality says the utilities demonstrated there was a demand for electricity. And the agency says the proposed coal plants in Holland and Rogers City met state and federal pollution standards.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The City of Holland plans to build a new $182 million power plant. Wednesday night Holland City Council voted eight to one to replace the city’s more than 70-year-old coal plant with a brand new one that burns natural gas instead.

“I don’t know about you but I’ve made some bad decisions in my life and I’ve made them probably because I acted too quickly,” City Councilman Wayne Klomparens said before casting the lone “no” vote.

Kevin Knobloch, President of the Union of Concerned Scientists was in Grand Rapids and will be in Kalamazoo tonight to ask people to vote in favor of Proposition 3. In an essay Knobloch called it "the most important clean energy vote this year".

user vaxomatic / flickr

The campaigns for and against Proposal 3 on the November ballot are arguing the economic merits of renewable fuels versus coal and gas.

Proposal 3 would require 25 percent of the state’s electricity be generated using wind, the sun, or bio-fuels by 2025.

Ken Sikkema conducted a study for the campaign against Proposal 3.

He compared the costs of renewable generation to the costs of using coal or natural gas.

He found renewable energy will be more expensive. Sikkema says businesses, in particular, need flexibility in planning for their energy needs.

"We don’t know what the cost of fuel’s going to be – for example, natural gas prices are on a downward spiral," says Sikkema. "That could be a factor in, if you need new generation, what do you use? Do you use wind? Do you use natural gas, or coal?"

The campaign for Proposal 3 says the ballot question would help stabilize energy costs, because the cost of wind and solar energy is not as volatile as fossil fuels.

The campaign also says the 25 percent target would help make renewable energy more affordable.

One consultant says Holland should convert its coal plant to natural gas.
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

People and interest groups are expected to weigh in on the City of Holland’s long term energy plan at two public hearings tonight and Wednesday.

Angela Badran, with Holland’s Board of Public Works, says the city is trying to figure out the best way to supply residents and industry with baseload energy for the next few decades.

"It’s very complex sort of situation that we’re looking at in, how can we best fit the needs of Holland for the next 25 years," says Badran.

The biggest decision facing the city-owned utility is what to do with its aging coal plant.

An independent consultant says the city would get the best return on investment if it converts the coal plant to burn natural gas instead.

Holland is taking input on several proposed plans at this week's public hearings.

One consultant says Holland should convert its coal plant to natural gas.
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Holland’s city owned utility would be better off if it burned natural gas rather than coal in the future. That’s the conclusion of a months-long study released this week.

The city hired an energy consultant firm to figure out which of its many energy options would produce the best return on investment. The firm said natural gas would be the best bang for the buck. The report says that return also considers other factors like the environment.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Holland City Council adopted guidelines on Wednesday night to handle the city’s long-term energy needs.

The comprehensive plan covers a wide variety of energy issues facing the city over the next 40 years.

Arguably the biggest energy issue long-term is whether the city needs to expand capacity at its coal plant, or maybe modify it to burn natural gas.

DTE Energy shareholders were met by protesters at their annual meeting in Detroit Thursday.

Hundreds of people demonstrated outside the company’s Detroit headquarters.  And inside, several interrupted CEO Gerard Anderson as he tried to run the meeting.

Protesters shouted for DTE to “Pay its fair share!”

They were talking about the fact that DTE was named as one of the nation’s “Dirty 30” companies in a recent report—one that paid more in lobbying expenses than federal income taxes from 2008 to 2010.

Demonstrators also protested the utility’s shutoff policies. The utility shut off service to 200,000 in its southeast Michigan service area in 2011.

That number has more than doubled over the past five years.

Demonstrators also criticized DTE’s continued reliance on coal-fired power, rather than renewable energy.

Protester Thomas Reinke said renewable power sources are now both cleaner and less expensive than coal.

 “We’re getting poorer and poorer every day, and we’re being forced to pay high costs of utilities that could be offset by wind and solar, or other types of renewable energy,” said Reinke, who says he owns a small, residential renewable energy business.

DTE officials announced Thursday that they’re looking for more wind energy suppliers.

“DTE Energy is seeking approximately 100 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy from Michigan-based wind projects that will be operating by the end of 2013.  This solicitation is part of DTE Energy's plan to meet Michigan's renewable energy goals,” the company said in a written statement.

By state law, they must provide 10% of their power from renewable sources by 2015.

As for the tax-dodging accusations, a DTE spokesman counters that the utility has paid more $1 billion in taxes since 2008, mostly to state and local governments.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

The Michigan State University Board of Trustees has approved a plan that will increase the East Lansing campus’ reliance on renewable energy sources.

The plan approved this morning will require MSU to get 40 percent of its electricity from wind, solar and other alternative energy sources by 2030. Renewables account for about two percent of MSU’s power right now.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Michigan State University is in the midst of a debate over how much the school  can rely on alternative energy sources to power its East Lansing campus.   

The university’s Board of Trustees meets Friday to vote on an energy plan for MSU. 

Earlier this week, MSU students used a giant inflatable inhaler to dramatize their concerns about the university’s large coal fired power plant located just south of campus. 

The students want MSU to commit to turning completely to wind, solar and other alternative energy sources for the university’s electricity needs.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

More than a hundred scientists from Michigan are supporting a federal standard that would limit the amount of mercury coal plants could emit.

The State of Michigan already has set some limits. But a major portion of the mercury that ends up in Michigan comes from coal plants in other states.

There are some U.S. Senators trying to stop federal regulators from implementing the rules. They say the regulations will hurt the economy.

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LUDINGTON, Mich. (AP) - Federal regulators will let operators of the passenger ferry S.S. Badger apply for a permit to continue dumping coal ash into Lake Michigan.

The Badger typically puts more than 500 tons of waste ash into the lake every year during its crossings between Ludington and Manitowoc, Wis. The Environmental Protection Agency previously set a December deadline for the company to stop the practice.

The Ludington Daily News reports that EPA on Tuesday told Badger operators they could apply to continue the dumping as they study ways to convert the ship to burn natural gas.

Republican Rep. Bill Huizenga tells The Muskegon Chronicle that the Badger is a historic vessel that provides jobs on both sides of the lake.

Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan also praised the EPA decision.

There’s a fight brewing about whether Michigan’s Upper Peninsula needs two new power lines. The high voltage lines would cut through northern woodlands to bring electricity from Wisconsin to the U.P. Energy companies say the single existing line is maxed out.

An announcement by WE Energies of Milwaukee sparked this debate last fall. The company said it would phase out an old coal burning power plant in Marquette over the next five years. To keep the plant going would mean investing millions in new pollution controls.

People in the U.P. were worried about where their power would come from, and they were upset about the prospect of losing 170 jobs at the Presque Isle power plant.

WE Energies favors building new power lines to send electricity from Wisconsin to the U.P. That plan was put on a fast track for regulatory approval.

But then a couple of weeks ago, WE Energies and Wolverine Power based in northern lower Michigan announced a joint venture.

They’re now looking at upgrading the plant in Marquette to meet stricter pollution rules.

Photo by Laura White

Mercury is a neurotoxin. The Environmental Protection Agency says mercury can be especially harmful for babies and kids. Mercury can affect their developing brains and harm their memory, attention, language and motor skills.

Mercury is naturally-occurring. Volcanoes emit mercury and so do hot springs, like the ones in Yellowstone National Park.

But the EPA points out... the largest manmade source of mercury emissions in the U.S. comes from coal-burning power plants.

Joel Blum is a professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Michigan. Blum says when power plants burn coal, mercury is emitted as a gas.

“In order to become toxic, it has to be transformed into a particular form known as methylmercury which is something that happens in the environment.”

So... mercury falls from the atmosphere, and is converted to methylmercury in the water. That toxic form builds up in fish... and it can build up in us when we eat fish.

But for years... there’s been a big debate about where that mercury goes when it’s released from a power plant smokestack.

“How much is deposited nearby, close to the plant, and how much goes into what we call global pool of mercury - basically goes into the atmosphere and stays there for a long period of time and mixes with mercury from other sources.”

Joel Blum and his colleagues have started to crack that puzzle with some careful detective work. They were able to track mercury emissions from a power plant in Florida... and they found that a high proportion of the mercury ended up nearby.

They did this by looking at chemical fingerprints.

DTE's St. Clair Power Plant in East China, Michigan.
user cgord / wikimedia commons

A new report from the group Environment Michigan says 115 inland lakes and rivers in the state have advisories for mercury pollution. Eating contaminated fish is the main way people are exposed to mercury.

Jessica Surma is with Environment Michigan. She says children are especially at risk for adverse health effects from mercury exposure.

“These can include lowered IQs, developmental disabilities and problems with motor control.”

The Environmental Protection Agency says electric utilities are by far the largest manmade sources of mercury emissions in the U.S. The EPA is planning to regulate mercury from power plants – for the first time ever.

John Austerberry is with DTE Energy.

“We agree with the goal of those regulations, but we are concerned that the federal rules will not provide sufficient time for the utilities to plan and install control systems.”

He says the company doesn’t know yet how much any new mercury control systems might cost or how much of that cost they might pass on to customers.

Photo courtesy of Consumers Energy's flickr page

Consumers Energy has canceled its plans to build a coal plant near Bay City. The $2 billion plant would have created 1,800 construction jobs and 100 permanent jobs.

Jeff Holyfield, a spokesman for Consumers Energy, says there two main reasons for the cancelation:

  1. Customer demand is down "about 5 or 6 percent. Holyfield says they "don’t expect that demand to reach pre-recession marks until sometime late in 2012."
  2. Natural gas prices are cheap, which Holyfield says makes a "new coal-fired power plant less economically attractive."

Holyfield says Consumers Energy invested about $25 million in the now scrapped coal plan.

The utility will also suspend operations at seven of its smaller coal-fired units across the state by 2015, and focus on two new wind farms it’s developing: one in west Michigan's Mason County, the other in Tuscola County in the thumb.

Consumers continues its $1.6 billion investment at its five largest coal-fired units to meet environmental regulations, which Holyfield says will create about 2,000 jobs in the state.

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