energy

University of Michigan

Michigan Radio recently co-hosted a town hall meeting with the University of Michigan's School of Engineering on the future of horizontal hydraulic fracturing in Michigan.

We also live-tweeted the event on hashtag #fracktopia. Here's one of the more revelatory facts that came out of that discussion:

Those are gas wells. Not necessarily horizontally fractured wells. Horizontal fracturing is still in the experimental stage in Michigan. One industry representative at the meeting said "the jury is still out" on whether horizontal hydraulic fracturing in Michigan would be a good investment.

The town hall discussion featured a screening of Fracktopia, a short film about the latest techniques to recover natural gas and oil and their potential consequences. Michigan Radio's Lester Graham then led a discussion and Q-and-A session with the following panelists:

You can watch the town hall meeting in full on the U-M School of Engineering's website.

Just click on the "View On-Demand" link.

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.

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.

Callum Black / Flickr

With all the buzz around the fiscal cliff in Congress, something happened that you might’ve missed.

There’s a federal tax credit. It’s called the wind energy Production Tax Credit, and it was about to expire at the end of last year.

At the final hour, Congress extended that tax credit, and President Obama signed the bill.

It now covers wind projects that start construction in 2013.

Peter Kelley, a spokesman for the American Wind Energy Association, says the credit gives tax relief for the first ten years of a wind farm.

Palisades Nuclear Power Plant.
Entergy Corporation

Michigan Radio has been following the problems at the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant for the last several years.

Our West Michigan reporter, Lindsey Smith, has been on top of all the leaks, shutdowns, public meetings and visits from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Last February, after five shutdowns in one year, the NRC downgraded Palisades' safety rating. It was rated as one of the four worst in the country.

Stateside: The renewable energy question

Oct 31, 2012
Tim Wang / Flickr

Continuing our examination of the six proposals on Michigan's ballot, we turn to Proposal 3: The renewable energy question.

 Michigan Radio's Rebecca Williams, host of "The Environment Report," spoke with Cyndy about how the proposal would affect the state if passed.

Listen to the segment above.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

A small farming community in West Michigan is celebrating the opening of plant that will turn organic waste into electricity.

Colonies of specialized bacteria will do the bulk of the work.

“The little fellows are just hungry as heck,” said Anand Gangadharan, president of Novi Energy. The company designed and will help manage the new Fremont Community Digester. They held a ribbon cutting ceremony to mark the digester’s opening Tuesday.

Nuclear waste cools off in a storage pool, before being stored in dry casks. Most waste is stored on-site at nuclear power plants around the country.
NRC

Nuclear waste is the 800 lb gorilla for the nuclear power industry.

Where do you stash waste that can have a half-life of tens of thousands of years?

The federal government has been trying to figure out a long term nuclear waste plan for decades. Yucca Mountain in Nevada was to be the site, but that plan was defunded by the Obama Administration in 2010.

Without a long-term solution, nuclear waste is typically stored on-site at nuclear power plants around the nation.

Palisades Nuclear Power Plant.
Entergy Corporation

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - A team from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has begun a special inspection of the Palisades nuclear power plant in southwestern Michigan.

The inspectors will be following up on two incidents in 2011 that caused the plant's safety rating to be downgraded, making it among the nation's poorest performing nuclear plants.

One problem was an electrical fault that caused a reactor shutdown and the other was failure of a water pump that cools safety equipment.

NRC spokeswoman Prema Chandrathil said Monday the eight-member inspector team began work Monday and will remain at Palisades for about two weeks. They'll be determining whether problem areas have been fixed and examining the plant's safety culture.

Afterward, they'll prepare a report that will determine whether Palisades' rating will go up, down or stay the same.

Great blue heron covered in oil from the 2010 Enbridge oil spill near Marshall, Michigan.
Michigan's oil response Flickr page / State of Michigan

The U.S. Department of Transportation has closed its pollution case against the owner of a pipeline that ruptured in 2010, spewing oil into the Kalamazoo River.

Federal regulators say Enbridge paid a $3.7 million fine to the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) last month.

The company is responsible for the largest inland, freshwater oil spill in U.S. history.

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.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

A federal program that tries to get homeowners to invest in energy efficient home improvement projects is nearly over.

The program provides a detailed home energy audit for a super low price. Homeowners who want to make improvements based on the audit can take out a low interest loan.

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.

Logan Chadde / Michigan Radio

Enbridge Energy plans to build a bigger oil pipeline across the state. The company says, not only will it be bigger and move more oil. They say it will also be safer than the line that broke in 2010.

The Michigan Public Service Commission approved the first phase of the project last May, but some landowners have sued. They say they weren’t properly notified that the construction work could force them to give up more land. And that Enbridge could remove more trees.

Kevin Lund, a senior geologist at the MDEQ's Department of Remediation, kicks over gravel to reveal the pollution along the Huron River.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Starting today, DTE plans to bring in the heavy equipment needed for the pollution cleanup along the Huron River west of the Broadway Bridge in Ann Arbor.

Black, oily coal tar pollution has been underground for decades.

It was left behind by an old manufactured gas plant owned by the utility company. Two years ago regulators discovered the coal tar was getting into the river. Now, DTE plans to spend between $2-3 million digging it out.

user wheat_in_your_hair / Flickr

DETROIT (AP) - About 8,000 DTE Energy Co. customers in Oakland County will receive credits on future bills after losing service this summer due to a substation fire.

The Detroit News reports Friday that the credits will range from $25 to $250 and show up on bills over the next several months.

Residences and businesses in Royal Oak and Berkley, north of Detroit, lost power for two days last month.

DTE Energy spokesman Len Singer says the amount of the credits will depend on the length of time customers were without electricity.

The newspaper reports that customers can seek a $25 credit if an outage lasts more than 16 hours under normal conditions or more than 120 hours under catastrophic conditions.

A news investigation found two natural gas companies might have colluded when bidding on drilling rights in Michigan. Reuters obtained e-mails exchanged between officials from Chesapeake Energy Corp. and Encana Corp. The paper says the e-mails show "that top executives of the two rivals plotted in 2010 to avoid bidding against each other in a state auction and in at least nine prospective deals with private land owners." State lawmakers are pushing for resolution with an investigation.

NTSB

A report released last week by the National Transportation Safety Board shows employees in an Enbridge control center located in Edmonton, Alberta did not know they were pressurizing a ruptured oil pipeline in Michigan.

Employees in the control center felt they were dealing with false alarms due to pressure losses in the pipeline after a planned shutdown.

The pressure losses were not due to "column separation" as some thought (air and vapor pockets between slugs of oil in the pipeline). They were caused by a break in the line.

The rupture led to the spill, and the continued pumping made it worse. More than 840,000 gallons of oil spilled, according to Enbridge.

However, the EPA estimates that more than 1 million gallons of thick, tar sands oil have been removed from Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River so far. The spill is still being cleaned up nearly two years later.

The NTSB estimates the pipeline ruptured around 5:58 p.m. on Sunday, July 25, 2010. Enbridge officials didn't know they had a spill on their hands for nearly 17 hours after the initial break.

In fact, employees increased the pressure in the pipeline - twice.

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."

Logan Chadde/Michigan Radio

Enbridge Energy operates the pipeline that ruptured in Marshall almost two years ago.  The Environmental Protection Agency says more than one million gallons of thick tar sands oil spilled into the Kalamazoo River.  The oil spill is still being cleaned up.

Since the spill, Enbridge has been making repairs on that pipeline. It’s known as Line 6B.

Now, the company plans to replace the entire pipeline from Griffith, Indiana to Marysville, Michigan. 

Enbridge Inc.

Enbridge Inc. has been replacing and repairing parts of line "6B" as part of its maintenance and rehabilitation program. The pipeline was built in 1969.

Now company officials want to replace 200 miles of the oil pipeline in Michigan.

The "6B" pipeline broke open near Marshall, Michigan in 2010 and spilled more that 840,000 gallons of thick tar sands oil into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River. There are still pockets of thick oil at the bottom of the Kalamazoo River.

The 6B pipeline has been operating at reduced capacity since the spill.

Crystal Garcia of the Times Herald of Port Huron reported on Enbridge's plan today.

She writes the existing pipeline is pumping around "243,000 barrels of oil a day with the pressure restrictions." A company spokesman, Joe Martucci, said the new pipeline would produce about 500,000 barrels of oil a day.

If plans are approved, Garcia reports the existing pipeline will be taken offline and remain in place, and the new pipeline will be built about 25 feet from the existing line.

Replacing the pipeline will be done in two phases, Martucci said.

Part of the first phase — which includes two five-mile segments east of pumping stations near Griffith and LaPorte, Ind. and three five-mile segments east of Niles, Mendon and Marshall — already has been approved. The other part of the first phase — a 50-mile segment between Stockbridge and Ortonville — is near approval. Work on the first phase will be done this year, Martucci said...

Phase two includes 210 miles of pipeline from Griffith, Ind. to Marysville that was not replaced during phase one. A preliminary hearing for the phase two proposal will be at 9 a.m. June 6 in Lansing

The Times Herald reports if the plans are approved, most of the construction work would be done in 2013.

Tom Remick / wikimedia commons

American Electric Power officials say reactor no. 2 at the Cook Nuclear Plant in southwest Michigan came back online Saturday after a 38-day refueling and maintenance shutdown.

Cook Nuclear Plant is located north of Bridgman, Michigan.  

From an AEP press release:

Indiana Michigan Power’s Cook Nuclear Plant Unit 2 returned to service today at 4:47 p.m. following a refueling outage that began March 21. In addition to refueling the reactor and performing regular maintenance and testing work, the 38-day, 16-hour outage also included the installation of new main output transformers.

ABC 57 reports reactor no. 1 will be refueled next year.

Wyoming Upper Green River Valley / Flickr

This is a speech I recently gave to a Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism meeting in Detroit on the risks and benefits of hydraulic fracturing.

BENEFITS

According to a Bloomberg Businessweek report, we are seeing an unprecedented drop in the price of natural gas in comparison to oil prices.

Oil is hovering around $100 a barrel. In 2002, oil was about $20 a barrel.

Natural gas is currently at 2002 prices. In fact, the price of natural gas is half of what it was one year ago.

Why? Because of abundant supplies of natural gas, what the U.S. Energy Information Administration calls “robust inshore production.”

There is a glut of gas.

This increased supply is mostly due to hydraulic fracturing. More importantly, a newer way to use the drilling method, horizontal hydraulic fracturing. Horizontal ‘fracking’ has made it easier and cheaper to extract natural gas from shale deposits in the U.S. and other sites around the globe.

Horizontal fracking has meant a boom in gas drilling and production. It’s meant more jobs in certain areas of the country. It’s meant greater dependence on domestic energy, and less dependence on foreign energy.

Because burning natural gas emits about half of the CO2 emissions of coal or oil, it means less of the greenhouse gases that are causing climate change.

It’s meant families can heat their homes more cheaply.

That all sounds good, right?

Well, it’s not ALL good.

Marathon Oil Company

The Marathon Oil refinery in southwest Detroit is in the process of expanding its facility to process heavier crude oil from Canada.

The expansion brings the company's new refining equipment closer to Detroit's Oakwood Heights neighborhood.

Marathon has been offering to buy homes in this neighborhood to create a buffer zone between the refinery and other residential areas.

Some homeowners in Oakwood Heights have signed on with the buyouts, others have stayed put.

The Detroit News' Jim Lynch reports Marathon has upped the amount it's willing to pay:

This month, Marathon officials said 86 percent of the owners have chosen to enroll in the buyout program — meaning they are willing to have their home appraised and see a monetary offer from the company.

Marathon is sweetening the pot, too, as it initially set a minimum appraisal price of $40,000 per home but already has bumped that figure up to $50,000.

The buyout plan is expected to head off lawsuits from those who live in this area. So far, the program has avoided legal entanglements, but it has generated plenty of hard feelings.

Oakwood Heights is an area surrounded by heavy industry. In addition to the refinery, there's the city's sewage treatment plant, a salt mine, a steel factory, and other industries.

Photo courtesy of Carbon Green BioEnergy

The ethanol refinery for Carbon Green Bioenergy rises up out of the cornfields outside Lake Odessa Michigan.

The refinery was built in 2006. Mitch Miller, the CEO of the company, says a lot of refineries were popping up then.

“Five years ago, ethanol was a craze,” he says. “It was the next best thing.”

Now, not so much. Refineries aren’t being built. Politicians aren’t stopping by with platoons of reporters.

Seriously, when is the last time you heard anyone talk about ethanol?

NRC

DTE Energy has shutdown its Fermi 2 nuclear power plant for refueling and maintenance work.

The Monroe News reports the shutdown is expected to last more than a month.

The company began reducing reactor power Sunday night and the plant stopped producing electricity early Monday morning, officials said.

Besides replacing about a third of the fuel in the reactor, the work will include upgrading the cables that connect the emergency diesel generators to the plant and upgrading the piping that supplies cooling water to the generators. The four big generators are designed to kick on to supply electricity to operator controls when there’s a power outage at the plant.

New equipment also will be installed at the transmission switchyard to improve grid reliability.

DTE spokesman Guy Cerullo told the Associated Press more than 1,500 supplemental workers are in town for the work.It's the 15th refueling and maintenance shutdown at the plant since it began commercial operation in 1988.

A new analysis by the Associated Press found no correlation between domestic oil drilling and gas prices in the U.S.

So this famous line will get you applause...

... but it won't get you lower gas prices.

"Drill, baby, drill has nothing to do with it," said Judith Dwarkin, chief energy economist at ITG investment research. Two other energy economists said the same thing and experts in the field have been making that observation for decades.

And it's not just Republicans who make these kind of claims.

Placing blame for high gas prices is low-hanging, point-scoring fruit for any politician.

The Associated Press points out that on the campaign trail in 2008, then presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama said "here in Ohio, you're paying nearly $3.70 a gallon for gas, 2-1/2 times what it cost when George Bush took office."

He's not blaming the White House occupant these days.

The Associated Press' Seth Borenstein and Jack Gillum wrote "statistical analysis of 36 years of monthly, inflation-adjusted gasoline prices and U.S. domestic oil production by The Associated Press shows no statistical correlation between how much oil comes out of U.S. wells and the price at the pump."

Energy Conversion Devices

Energy Conversion Devices, Inc., a technology company based in Auburn Hills, Michigan filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection today.

The company makes thin laminates that convert sunlight to energy and "has manufacturing facilities in Auburn Hills and Greenville, Michigan, as well as sites in Mexico and Canada," according to the Wall Street Journal.

wikimedia commons

COVERT TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) - The Palisades nuclear power plant in southwestern Michigan is being shut down temporarily for maintenance.

Spokesman Mark Savage said in a statement that control room operators removed the plant from service Thursday night. The plant is near Lake Michigan in Van Buren County's Covert Township.

Savage says the plant was being cooled down Friday morning.

The maintenance work involves the system that controls the nuclear reactor's power level.

There are 45 seals that form a boundary between the cooling system and the atmosphere inside the building that houses the reactor. Officials say one of the seals is showing signs of wear and will be replaced.

Savage says the plant will return to service when the job is finished. Palisades is owned by New Orleans-based Entergy Corp.

user wheat_in_your_hair / Flickr

12:16 p.m.

As it turns out, the planned power outage in parts of Detroit and Highland Park were over by the time the post was put up below. The Associated Press reports:

A planned power outage has wrapped up earlier than expected in part of Detroit and Highland Park after crews worked to repair some underground lines.

DTE Energy Co. said Wednesday's outage affected about 3,500 customers in Detroit and the Detroit enclave.

Officials said the power was shut down to the area as planned about 6 a.m. EST. The power was back on before 11 a.m, more than three hours earlier than expected.

11:35 a.m.

Around 3,500 DTE Energy customers in Detroit and the Highland Park area have had their power cut while the utility company performs "routine maintenance."

Some question whether the timing of the routine maintenance was wise given the cold temperatures.

Fox News in Detroit reports the maintenance was originally scheduled for this past fall:

DTE Energy told FOX 2 the routine maintenance was originally slated for late September or early October, but together with city officials and community leaders, they decided January fourth would be better. That way schools aren't impacted.

A video posted by the Detroit Free Press shows at least two customers in the area are taking the outage in stride.

The Free Press reports that three activity centers have been opened as warming centers in the area:

...the City of Detroit has designated three recreation centers as warming centers.

The warming centers are Northwest Activities Center, 18100 Meyers Road; Butzel Family Center, 7737 Kercheval, and Farwell Community Center, 2711 E. Outer Drive.

The power is expected to be turned back on at 2 p.m. Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek is following this story as well.

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