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A new report says three Michigan companies spent more on lobbying than they did in corporate income taxes between 2008 and 2010.

Those companies include Michigan’s two biggest utilities, DTE and Consumers Energy. It also includes Ann Arbor-based freight hauler Con-way.

Wind power could feature prominently in Michigan energy production if voters amend the state constitution to include a new renewable energy standard.
cwwycoff1 / flickr

Consumers Energy will take a big leap toward meeting the state’s renewable energy mandate next year.

State law requires utilities to get ten percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2015.

Consumers Energy spokesman Dan Bishop says the utility will build 56 wind turbines in Mason County.  The project is called Lake Wind Energy Park.

"When Lake Winds begins producing electrons late next year in 2012, we will move from 5 percent to 8 percent, heading us towards the 10 percent requirement of Michigan’s law," says Bishop.

Consumers Energy / Flickr/user

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.

user midnightcomm / Flickr

A state program that used to provide heating assistance to 95,000 low-income Michigan residents remains in limbo, but a temporary solution may be worked out this week to help more people stay warm.

Rep. Ken Horn says he's hoping a Wednesday meeting between state officials and Detroit Edison and Consumers Energy staff will lead to a fix until another way to fund the program can be found. He'd like to see the two utilities agree to turn on indigent customers' heat and keep it on through winter, then roll the unpaid bills into their next rate increase.

Michigan law forbids utility companies from shutting off heat between November 1 and March 30 to customers aged 65 and older. But others could face being disconnected if they can't pay their bills.

Blue Flame Gas inc.

Consumers Energy says its natural gas customers will be paying less this winter to heat their homes.  

Dan Bishop is a Consumers spokesman.   He says more plentiful supplies are leading to a 3 percent cut in natural gas prices.   

“In recent years there’s been a large amount of new natural gas discoveries in the United States and in Canada.  And that extra increase of supply has really put downward pressure on prices," says Bishop.  

(flickr sgreech)

Thousands of Michiganders could lose access to tens of millions of dollars in home heating assistance this winter. Last month, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that Consumers Energy no longer has to collect money from its natural gas customers for a low-income energy assistance program.

Consumers Energy customers may see their monthly electric bills increase by the end of the year.  The Jackson-based utility wants to increase the average customer’s bill by more than seven dollars a month.  Jeff Holyfield  is a Consumers Energy spokesman. 

“The increase we have requested in this rate case primarily reflects the major investments…nearly a billion dollars that  Consumers Energy is making to maintain and improve service to its 1.8 million electric customers and to improve the environment.”   

It may take until Thursday before tens of thousands of people in west and central Michigan get their electricity back.  Two strong storm fronts moved through the state today, packing powerful winds.  

Terry Dedoes is a Consumers Energy spokesman.  He says the utility is busy trying to restore electricity to 95 thousand Consumers Energy customers.   

 “That second wave materialized…and that did a lot of damage…we saw more outages from that second wave that came through in Kalamazoo….which just got brushed by that first one.”  

A new report from the Michigan Environmental Council says Michigan’s oldest coal-burning power plants are costing state residents $1.5 billion dollars in health care costs each year. 

The report focuses on the state’s nine oldest coal-burning power plants.  It highlights particle pollution.  This type of pollution comes from power plants and factories as well as car and trucks.

James Clift is the policy director for the MEC.

“If you think of smog, kind of the black cloudy stuff, the really tiny particles, they lodge deep in your lungs and those are the ones they’re seeing causing the most impacts.”

He says these tiny particles are linked to a variety of heart and lung problems, including asthma.

He says on average, a family of four spends more than 500 dollars a year on health care expenses that can be attributed to the particle pollution from the power plants.

DTE Energy owns four of the power plants targeted in the report. 

John Austerberry is a spokesperson with DTE.

“All Detroit Edison power plants meet or exceed federal standards for sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions.  And it’s those constituents that can contribute to the formation of fine particles under certain atmospheric conditions.”

The report calls on DTE and Consumers Energy to gradually phase out the oldest coal-burning power plants.

Utility crews from Ohio and Indiana are helping crews restore electricity in Michigan today. Consumers Energy says around 70,000 homes and businesses in Mid-Michigan are without power following severe storms in the area Sunday afternoon. That's down from 108,000 originally.

Jay Jacobs is with Consumers Energy. They’re working to restore power to tens of thousands of people near the cities of Lansing and Battle Creek.

Consumers Energy is expanding a very popular solar energy program in Michigan. The program allows people with solar panels on their homes or businesses to sell some of the power they generate to the power company. 

State regulators are directing the utility giant to expand the program.

Consumers Energy will double the amount of power it will pay people for. All utility providers in Michigan are investing in more renewable energy. State law requires them to get at least 10% of their power from renewable sources by 2015.

(Flickr Simon Strandgaard)

The nuclear accidents in Japan have raised questions about the future of about 20 planned new nuclear power plants in the U.S, including one in Michigan. 

DTE’s proposed Fermi 3 nuclear power plant has the potential of helping Michigan meet its future energy needs, as well as its construction generating billions of dollars for the state’s economy. But like 19 other proposed nuclear projects, its future appears murky in the wake of the Japanese nuclear crisis. 

A DTE spokesman says it’s “way too early” to speculate on how the events in Japan may affect the utility’s application for Fermi 3. 

Joseph Sindoni is with the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry lobbying group.   Sindoni says  “Until we understand clearly what’s occurred at Fukashima (Daiichi) nuclear power plants and any consequences, it’s difficult to speculate about the long-term impact.”  

Plans for new nuclear power plants all but dried up after the 1979 Three Mile Island accident and it was only recently that interest in developing alternative energy sources renewed interest in nuclear power.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Consumers Energy has been busy this week reconnecting tens of thousands of customers who lost power during last Sunday's ice & snow storm.  So it could be argued the utility was due some good news.  Today CMS Energy announced the Jackson-based utility profits increased last year.   

User anotherpioneer / Flickr

The ice storm was Sunday, but it may tomorrow or Friday before the last Consumers Energy customer who lost power will get their electricity restored.   195,000 thousand CMS utility customers lost power after the storm that dumped a half foot or more of snow and ice on Michigan at the beginning of the week. 

About 44,000 are still without power, says  Garrick Rochow, vice president of energy delivery for the utility:

UPDATE 3:50pm 

 

A DTE spokesman expects power will be restored to about 500 customers in the Ann Arbor later area today.

The power went out around midnight last night.  

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