Environment & Science

Energy
12:36 pm
Wed September 26, 2012

TIMELINE: Problems at Palisades, 7 shutdowns in last 2 years

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 and visits from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

There's been so much news of late, it can get a little confusing.

To clear up what's been happening at Michigan's oldest operating nuclear power plant, we created this timeline.

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energy
8:20 am
Tue September 25, 2012

Research buoy shows offshore winds average at least 22 mph in middle of Lake Michigan

The wind buoy sits on a pier in Muskegon before it first launched back in October 2011.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Wind speed in the middle of Lake Michigan appears to be some of the best in the state for developing wind energy. That’s according to preliminary data from a high-tech research buoy that’s been anchored there all summer.

It’s pretty common knowledge that it’s windy out here off the Lake Michigan shore. But exactly how windy, and when, and what direction, details about bats and birds; none of that information has been available until now.

“I suspect that will ramp up some levels of interest in what we’re doing,” said Arn Boezaart.

Boezaart heads the Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center that’s operating the buoy. He revealed the preliminary data at the center’s annual business meeting Monday afternoon.

“I think we’re demonstrating that we now have the ability to go out onto the Great Lakes and do a very credible and scientifically relevant job of measuring wind speeds, wind capacity that others can use to make whatever decisions they might,” Boezaart said.

Early data show the average offshore wind speed is at least 22 miles an hour. Wind farms have been built on land in Michigan where wind speeds average around 17 miles an hour.

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Environment & Science
3:48 pm
Mon September 24, 2012

States to cut way back on Lake Michigan Chinook stocking

A male Chinook salmon in spawning phase.
USGS

Lake Michigan's Chinook salmon are doing so well that Michigan and other states and tribes in the region have decided to sharply reduce stocking rates of the popular game fish.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources announced Monday that it will cut its annual Chinook stocking in the lake by two-thirds, from 1.67 million to 560,000. The change begins in spring 2013.

The MDNR says because the fish are reproducing naturally in significant numbers in Michigan, the state "will shoulder the majority of the stocking reduction."

Michigan will reduce stocking by 1.13 million spring fingerlings, or 67 percent of the 1.69 million recently stocked by the state. Wisconsin will reduce by 440,000; Indiana will reduce by 25,000; and Illinois will reduce by 20,000.

The state agencies are following recommendations of the Lake Michigan Committee.

The Lake Michigan Committee is comprised of fisheries managers from Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and five Michigan tribes that are party to the 2000 Consent Decree.

In total stocking will be cut in half, going from 3.3 million to 1.7 million annually.

Naturalists say overstocking of predator fish threatens the population of other lake species and upsets the ecological balance. Half the Chinook in the lake now are the result of natural reproduction.

The MDNR says the decision to reduce stocking is part of an "adaptive management strategy." They say they will monitor indicators in the lake, such as Chinook salmon growth, and adjust to the conditions in Lake Michigan.

If conditions improve or get worse, stocking will be increased or decreased accordingly, and more quickly.

"This will give the DNR more flexibility to adaptively manage the lake," said Jay Wesley, Southern Lake Michigan Unit manager. "Traditionally, we have made changes in stocking and waited five years to evaluate it, and another two years to implement changes. Now we have the ability, through a defined and accepted process, to make changes as they are needed."

Environment & Science
2:01 pm
Sun September 23, 2012

Michigan wildlife officials hope to hear from hunters about the spread of a deadly deer virus

A white tail deer showing symptoms of Epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD)
mwanner_wc creative commons

Thousands of deer have died in Michigan due to a virus in the last few months.

State wildlife officials hope to hear from deer hunters this week as they try to track the disease.

This past weekend, thousands of Michigan deer hunters took to the woods.  A few were legally allowed to hunt deer, but most of them just to track deer they will try to bag when bow season starts next month.

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Environment & Science
4:13 pm
Fri September 21, 2012

Michigan energy company withdraws gas drilling application

The U.S. Forest Service says that Savoy Energy has informed federal agencies it's withdrawing an application to drill below a site called the Mason Tract in Michigan's northern Lower Peninsula.
user {inercia} Flickr

A Traverse City company is abandoning a nearly decade-long effort to extract natural gas in  an environmentally sensitive area. 

The U.S. Forest Service says that Savoy Energy has informed federal agencies it's withdrawing an application to drill below a site called the Mason Tract in Michigan's northern Lower Peninsula. 

Agriculture
1:45 pm
Thu September 20, 2012

Stateside: Bad year for apples, good year for grapes

Grape vines in west Michigan.
user rkramer62 Flickr

2012 will go down as an "annus horribilis" for most fruit-growers in Michigan. Apples, cherries, pears have been hit hard by the big March warm-up followed by a spring frost, then a hot, dry summer.

But if you are a wine producer in Michigan, you might be feeling happier about the weather we've had this year!

Eddie O'Keefe is the President of Chateau Grand Traverse Wines on the beautiful Old Mission Peninsula.

There was a lot of nail biting amongst growers early in the season said Mr. O’Keefe.

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The Environment Report
10:10 am
Thu September 20, 2012

Cleaning up a big, underground mess in Michigan (PHOTOS)

In 2007, Logan's Gas and Deli lost 8,000 gallons of gas underground. The owners walked away, and the state is still cleaning up the mess.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

There are around 4,800 gas stations in Michigan, but at one time, there were a lot more. It seemed like just about every corner had a gas station on it.

Many of those gas stations are closed now, but taxpayers are often on the hook for what’s been left behind.

I visited one of these polluted sites recently with representatives from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ). The heavy traffic along State Route 89 near Battle Creek makes it a perfect place for a gas station.

And for a long time, things were going well for Logan’s Gas and Deli.

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The Salt
4:10 pm
Mon September 17, 2012

Shriveled Michigan apple harvest means fewer jobs, tough year ahead

A lonely Michigan apple.
Noah Adams NPR

Originally published on Tue September 18, 2012 2:42 pm

An apple a day might keep the doctor away, but what do you do when there are no apples? It's a question western Michigan's apple growers are dealing with this season after strange weather earlier in the year decimated the state's apple cultivation.

Michigan is the third-largest apple producer in the U.S. after New York and Washington, but the state's apples will soon be in short supply. Now in the middle of harvest season, growers are picking only 10 percent to 15 percent of their normal crop.

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Environment & Science
2:42 pm
Mon September 17, 2012

Feds begin safety inspection at Palisades plant

Palisades Nuclear 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.

Environment & Science
2:01 pm
Sun September 16, 2012

Palisades nuclear power plant inspection to begin this week

Palisades nuclear power plant (owned by Entergy)
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

A critical two week federal inspection of the Palisades nuclear power plant begins Monday.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspectors want to determine if Palisades’ owners have addressed problems that have raised questions about the nuclear plant’s “culture of safety”.

The problems have resulted in four unscheduled reactor shutdowns.

“It’s a very important inspection for us,” says Anthony Vitale, the plant’s site vice president,  “And it will give us a very good scrub as to where we are. We expect to come out of that with very good ratings.”

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Environment & Science
3:01 pm
Fri September 14, 2012

19 potential ways aquatic invasive species can move between GL and the Mississippi basins

Aside from the 'Chicago Area Waterway,' the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lists 18 places along watershed divide between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River basins where aquatic invasive species can get in.
USACE

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has released a draft of its study on how aquatic invasive species can move between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins - the boundary between the basins stretches for around 1,500 miles.

Not including the major pathway of the 'Chicago Area Waterway,' the USACE said there are a total of 18 potential pathways:

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Environment & Science
11:59 am
Fri September 14, 2012

Dow chemical sampling properties in Midland, Michigan for dioxin pollution

Dow Chemical's headquarters in Midland.
wikimedia commons

MIDLAND, Mich. (AP) - The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality says Dow Chemical Co. is ahead of schedule as it samples residential properties in Midland for dioxin.

The DEQ this week approved Dow's request to begin work on 300 properties that had been scheduled for inspection next year.

It's part of a five-year plan to clean up neighborhoods contaminated for decades by airborne dioxin from a Dow plant in Midland, where the company is based.

Of about 150 properties sampled thus far, 22 have had dioxin levels higher than 250 parts per trillion, which triggers a company-funded cleanup if the owners want it.

Results from this fall's sampling will be available next spring. Any needed cleanups will get started then.

Dow is negotiating with federal officials over cleanup of the Tittabawassee and Saginaw rivers.

Environment & Science
3:31 pm
Thu September 13, 2012

Stateside: Asian Carp and the Great Lakes

Asian carp at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium.
Kate Gardiner Creative Commons

They've become YouTube stars: big fat Asian carp leaping into boats and sometimes breaking bones as they come flailing into the boat of some poor person who just wanted to enjoy some time on the water.

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Environment & Science
2:18 am
Thu September 13, 2012

Palisades critics still doubt nuclear power plant's management's commitment to safety

Catherine Sugas lives just west of the Palisades nuclear power plant. At last night's public meeting, she asked officials with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to shut down the plant
Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

The owners of the Palisades nuclear power plant promised last night to improve their “culture of safety."   

But dozens of people at the public meeting doubted that promise.   Catherine Sugas spoke for many people who attended the meeting when she questioned why the problem plagued nuclear power plant is still operating.

“If you can’t shut down a plant that’s dangerous…what are you?    How can you keep a plant going that’s obviously dangerous,” Sugas asked a panel from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

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Asian Carp & the Great Lakes
8:55 am
Wed September 12, 2012

VIDEO: Keeping Asian carp out of the Great Lakes in Indiana

This fence, constructed at Eagle Marsh near Fort Wayne, is designed to block potential advancement of Asian carp toward the Great Lakes.
Mercedes Mejia Michigan Radio

Many biologists, politicians, and other say the threat of Asian carp getting into the Great Lakes is cause for concern. The silver carp are especially a nuisance. Those are the ones that can jump as high as 10-feet out of the water. They flop onto boats, and can cause injuries to fishermen.

The Environment Report has been taking a closer look at the effects these fish could have on our rivers and lakes, in the series -- Asian Carp & the Great Lakes.

Rebecca Williams and I took a trip to Eagle Marsh, Indiana. The wetland preserve is located on the southwest border of Fort Wayne. There, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources built what is nearly a 1,200 foot long, 8 foot high chain link fence, designed to block potential advancement of Asian carp toward the Great Lakes.

Here's a video of our trip, plus footage of Asian carp in action, and interviews with experts.

Environment & Science
1:01 am
Wed September 12, 2012

Palisades nuclear power plant's safety record will be the subject of a public meeting tonight

The Palisades nuclear power plant, near South Haven, Michigan
Nuclear Regulatory Commission

The safety of west Michigan’s Palisades nuclear power plant will be the topic of a public meeting tonight in South Haven.

Palisades has one of the worst safety ratings in the country.

Maintenance mistakes and other problems led to four unscheduled reactor shutdowns at Palisades in 2011.  And there have been more problems this year.

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Environment & Science
2:53 pm
Tue September 11, 2012

NOAA: Summer 2012 third hottest on record, see how local climate has changed

The redder the higher the difference from average temperature, June-August 2012.
NOAA

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climatic Data Center reported today that the summer of 2012 "was the third hottest summer on record for the contiguous United States since recordkeeping began in 1895."

They looked at records from June through August of 2012 (summer is technically over on the morning of September 22).

...the average temperature for the contiguous United States between June and August was over 74° Fahrenheit, which is more than 2° F above the twentieth-century average. Only the summers of 2011 and 1936 have had higher summer temperatures for the Lower 48.

The online weather service, the Weather Underground, has compiled data that allows users to look at how their local climate has changed over the years.

It also allows users to see how local the climate is expected to change in the coming years using two different IPCC greenhouse gas emissions models.

Environment & Science
12:59 pm
Tue September 11, 2012

Enbridge pays $3.7 million fine to feds for 2010 Michigan oil spill

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.

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Environment & Science
5:53 pm
Mon September 10, 2012

Sikkema says green energy mandate would lead to higher energy costs

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.

energy
12:48 pm
Mon September 10, 2012

Last call for low-cost energy audits from federal stimulus money

Sara Potyraj in the attic of her home in Grand Rapids. A low-interest loan allowed her to make improvements that'll add up to big savings in her energy bills.
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.

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