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Environmental groups haven't given up trying to stop DTE Energy from building a $1 billion natural gas plant.  

The groups are asking the Michigan Public Service Commission to reconsider the permit it approved for the plant. 

Margrethe Kearney is with the Environmental Law and Policy Center. She says renewable energy becomes cheaper and more reliable every year.  

"And it just doesn't make sense for Michigan to say we're going to build a huge natural gas plant, which means of course we won't be building any of that other stuff," she says.

Natural gas plant
World Resources Institute

Utility companies are shutting down some of their older, less efficient coal-burning power plants. 

To generate the electricity to replace those old plants, utilities have to decide whether to build more coal-fired plant or go with natural gas, nuclear, renewable energy, or some combination.

DTE Energy recently decided to replace some of its older coal-burning plants with a natural gas burning plants, incorporating little additional renewable energy.

steve carmody / Michigan Radio

DTE Energy now has the green light to build a billion dollar natural gas power plant in St. Clair County.   But while state regulators approved of the plan, they also made it clear they didn’t like the way the utility behaved during the review process.

Michigan officials have approved an energy company's request to build two natural-gas-fired turbines outside Detroit.

steve carmody / Michigan Radio

A coalition of groups is calling on state regulators to reject DTE’s plans to build a billion dollar natural gas plant.

The utility wants to replace three retiring coal-fired power plants with the new natural gas plant in St. Clair County.  The three aging coal plants represent roughly 20% of DTE’s power capacity. The plants are scheduled to shut down over the next five years.  

Courtesy of BWL

The commissioners who run the Lansing Board of Water and Light have unanimously approved the construction of a new natural gas plant.

The public utility says the new plant will complement its renewable energy projects and will allow it to close its two remaining coal-fired plants, Eckert in 2020 and Erickson in 2025.

The new plant will be located at the Erickson Power Station facility in Delta Township. 

Lansing Board of Water and Light

The Lansing Board of Water and Light meets Tuesday to vote on issuing bonds for a new natural gas plant, but opponents plan to make a last-ditch effort to change the minds of board members.

The city-owned utility held public meetings before choosing a natural gas plant to replace two coal-burning plants. "But that was several years ago," says Rebecca Payne with the Lansing Environmental Action Team. "Things on the energy market are changing overnight."

Eastern Michigan University

Eastern Michigan University flipped the switch on its new co-generation plant Friday, making the university the first in Michigan to meet close to 100% of its campus energy needs.

Cogeneration is an efficient way to use natural gas. The plant burns natural gas to spin a turbine, which creates electricity. The hot exhaust is then funneled to a generator that creates steam heat. 

John Donegan is vice president in charge of facilities. He says the plant will be able to produce 98% of the heat used on campus, and 93% of the electricity.  

"This is the most economical, most environmentally friendly way to mass produce large amounts of electricity and steam," he says.

The Lansing Board of Water and Light Monday announced plans for a new natural gas power plant. The $500 million project will break ground a year from now and come online in the first quarter of 2021.

Lansing Board of Water and Light General Manager Dick Peffley says an older, dirtier, less efficient coal-powered plant is scheduled to be retired in 2020. Retiring the coal plant and building a cleaner, new natural gas plant is part of the utility’s plan to generate 30 percent of its electricity from cleaner energy sources by 2020. Peffley says they’re on schedule to hit that mark.

picture of DTE Trenton Channel power plant
Courtesy of DTE Energy

DTE Energy wants to replace three old coal plants with a huge new natural gas burning one. The company expects to break ground in 2019, DTE announced today. That's if it can convince the state that there is a need for the new plant, and that natural gas is the best way to fill it. 

Trevor Lauer, DTE Electric's president and chief operating officer,  says the plant will be capable of producing 1,100 megawatts. That's enough to power 850,000 homes.

L'ANSE, Mich. (AP) - A utility says more than 700 customers have had their natural gas service restored after a ruptured line caused an explosion and fire in the Upper Peninsula.

Semco Energy says crews continue to go door-to-door Saturday afternoon in the L'Anse area in Baraga County.

The process of restoring gas service involves going to each address to shut off the valve and then returning to open it.

About 1,200 customers have been affected by the outage.

An early morning single-car accident severed natural gas service to the village of L'anse, Michgan, affecting around 1,2000 customers
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Approximately 1,200 people in the eastern U.P. village of L’anse, Michigan are without natural gas service after a driver collided with a gas line early Friday morning.

According to Jeff Hubbard, emergency manager for Baraga County, a man who had been driving long hours crashed into a Semco Energy gate station at 3:43am, Friday. 

"The accident resulted in damage to the gas line, (and) a subsequent fire," Hubbard said. "The driver of the vehicle was taken from the scene and treated at a local hospital."

Natural gas stove top burning
Steven Depolo / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The natural gas industry tells us that using natural gas is environmentally friendly. The industry says natural gas has fewer impurities than coal, and tells us its combustion yields mostly carbon dioxide and water vapor, so there’s less pollution.

But the main ingredient of natural gas is methane. And methane is one of the biggest contributors to climate change.

That’s why University of Michigan public policy assistant professor Catherine Hausman said we need to be concerned about what happens to the environment when methane leaks.

She also believes the utilities have little incentive to plug natural gas leaks. She recently wrote about the issue in an article at TheConversation.com and she joined Stateside to talk more about it. 

Michigan Oil and Gas Association

Leaders of Michigan’s oil and gas industry are optimistic their business is poised to rebound from a prolonged price slump.

Oil and natural gas prices are half of what they were in recent years. But just over the past few months, oil prices have jumped nearly 50 percent.

Lansing Board of Water and Light facility
Steve Carmody / MIchigan Radio

Lansing utility officials are weighing a plan that could greatly increase their reliance on alternative energy.

The Lansing Board of Water & Light will soon have to shut down three coal-fired power plants. The plant produce about 80% of the utility’s electricity. 

A panel is recommending BWL replace the electricity from three soon-to-close coal plants with power from wind, solar and natural gas.

map of Line 5
Enbridge

There's been a lot of concern expressed about Enbridge's oil and liquid natural gas pipelines running under Lake Michigan at the Straits of Mackinac.

But Keith Matheny of the Detroit Free Press reports that an oil spill contingency specialist with the U.S. Coast Guard is more worried about the above-ground section of Line 5 running across the Upper Peninsula.

From Matheny's piece:

Liesl Clark said Michigan is taking more older, coal-fired power plants offline because they are uneconomical to run.
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Experts say that with at least nine coal plants in Michigan slated to shut down in the next 10 months, natural gas is the likely replacement as the primary source for generating energy.  But they are not predicting a large increase in natural gas production in the state. Instead, they say there likely will be more pipelines and other infrastructure built to import more natural gas from nearby Ohio and Pennsylvania.

A new report released by the Graham Sustainability Institute looks at Michigan's options for regulating hydraulic fracturing of natural gas in Michigan.

The report says current regulations are written for smaller wells drilled to a depth of 800 to 2,000 feet, using about 50,000 gallons of water each. But high-volume fracking, using wells drilled as deep as 10,000 feet, could take off in Michigan if economic conditions become favorable for it. There are currently only 13 high-volume wells in Michigan, compared to 12,000 conventional shallow wells.

Julie Grant

New pipelines are good for energy companies, but they often disturb private property. The Nexus pipeline would run 250 miles from gas wells in southeast Ohio to Michigan and Canada. Julie Grant reports it’s drawing opposition from landowners concerned about their safety and property rights.

The ET Rover natural gas pipeline's planned route in Michigan has changed. You can see the oringal planned route on the left, and the revised plan on the right.
Draft FERC filing / Energy Transfer

The Texas-based pipeline company Energy Transfer announced that they plan to cut through fewer counties in Michigan when building the Rover natural gas pipeline.

The company's new agreement, they say, will eliminate their need to build new pipeline in six Michigan counties.

Bureau of Land Management

Residents of northern Michigan got a surprise last summer. They found out some drilling for oil and gas can be done confidentially. That unnerved some people in Emmet County, who now want their local government to do something about it.

Courtesy photo / Holland BPW

Federal regulators are proposing new rules to cut carbon dioxide emissions, and it looks like one community in west Michigan has a decent head start.

In case you missed it over the summer, the Environmental Protection Agency is proposing cutting carbon emissions by 30% by 2030.

Power plants are the biggest producers of carbon emissions in the U.S.

Here in Michigan, coal powers half of all homes and businesses. So utilities are probably going to have to stop burning so much coal in order to meet the requirements, assuming they are approved.

The City of Holland owns a coal plant. The James De Young plant is 75 years old.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Plans for a new natural gas pipeline through parts of southeastern Michigan face a lot of local opposition.

The ET Rover Pipeline would snake its way through more than a half dozen counties, from the Ohio border to Sarnia, Ontario. It’s part of a planned 800-mile pipeline that will stretch from Pennsylvania and West Virginia through Ohio to Michigan.

Tim Evanson via Wikimedia Commons

This week, a Cheboygan District Court Judge ruled that Chesapeake Energy will go to trial for alleged fraud.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has accused the Oklahoma-based energy company of swindling landowners in northern Michigan.

Peter Payette is with our partners at Interlochen Public Radio and he has been covering this story.

How did all of this start?

Around May of 2010, the state auctioned off the right to drill for oil and gas on public land.

"And that auction saw prices that were astronomical. The state in one day raised as much money from the sale of oil and gas rights as it had raised in its entire history," Payette says. "And that's because out-of-state companies believed that by using these newer methods of horizontal hydraulic fracturing that they could make a lot of money by drilling deep down in the ground and taking out natural gas."

These companies went out to private landowners that summer and asked to explore their properties for oil and gas. The landowners signed leases. "And those promised what is called a 'order of payment' and in many cases the landowners did not receive payment and may say they were cheated and are owed money," Payette says.

Member of the public with a “No Fracking” sticker on her clothes as she testifies before a panel of environmental regulators.
Rick Pluta

State environmental regulators will put the finishing touches on new rules regarding “fracking” now that public hearings have wrapped up. They expect to have the new rules adopted by the end of the year, but the state’s rules may not be the final word on the controversial drilling process

“Fracking” is a drilling method that pushes water and chemicals into wells to force out oil and gas deposits.

A section of new pipeline for Enbridge's line 6B.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

"Here we go again."

That's what some in Michigan are undoubtedly thinking as they learn of a proposed natural gas pipeline that could run through Michigan on its way to Ontario, Canada.

The proposed Rover Pipeline would carry natural gas through about 180 miles of Michigan. Some of it would track the very same route as the controversial Enbridge 6B oil pipeline that was recently replaced.

Keith Metheny is a reporter with the Detroit Free Press.

Metheny said the pipes will take natural gas from areas in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio and ship it westward into Michigan, through the southeast corner, spanning through six counties, and ending up in a hub in Ontario for distribution. The pipeline might follow a portion of the 6B route, around Oakland, Macomb, and St. Clair counties and possibly others.

“It’s going to be the very same people, the very same route, the people who saw their backyards torn up for a year, the people who occasionally had their roads inaccessible,” Metheny said.

Metheny said this pipeline would be large, 42 inches in diameter that will transfer more than 3 billion cubic feet of gas per day.

“In the highest gas demand day ever for Consumers Energy, which was in January 2013, they pushed out less natural gas across the entire state of Michigan than the amount that would pass through this pipeline every day,” Metheny said.

He added that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will determine if the pipes go down, but a decision may not be made until 2015.

Energy Transfer will hold a series of public meetings along the path of the proposed Rover Pipeline.

There will be a meeting this evening in Chelsea at 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm at the Comfort Inn Village Conference Center on Commerce Park Drive in Chelsea. And there's a meeting tonight in Richmond at the Lois Wagner Memorial Library, again, from 5:30 pm-7:30 pm.

*Listen to full story above. 

World Resources Institute

State officials want to hear what you think about fracking.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality wants to update the state’s rules on hydraulic fracturing. The DEQ is holding two public hearings this week on the proposed changes.

Hal Fitch is the chief of the DEQ’s Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals.

“Starting about 2008, we started hearing increased public concerns. So we met with the environmental community, we met with the public in over 200 different forums and heard those concerns and formulated these rules based on what we were hearing,” he says.

World Resources Institute

You might recall that earlier this year Michigan’s attorney general filed charges against two energy giants.

Encana Oil and Gas USA and Chesapeake Energy were accused of colluding to lower the price of land leases for oil and gas exploration.

Last Friday, a Michigan Cheboygan County District Court judge ruled that Chesapeake Energy Corp must face a criminal trial, citing evidence of a conspiracy between the companies.

Reuters quoted Judge Maria Barton of Michigan’s Cheboygan County District Court:

"The direct and circumstantial evidence established that the parties did in fact strike an agreement to bid-rig the State sale." 

Part of that evidence could have come from Encana Oil. That company struck a plea deal with the State of Michigan in exchange for its help in Michigan's anti-trust case Chesapeake Energy. Encana also agreed to pay a $5 million fine.

This past May, MPRN's Rick Pluta reported:

 If Encana lives up to its end of the bargain, the state will drop other criminal charges at a sentencing hearing in 11 months.

Chesapeake Energy is the nation’s second-largest producer of natural gas.

Jeff Insko

A proposed natural gas pipeline could run through Michigan on its way to the Canadian border.

ET Rover, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners, is planning a pipeline that would run through about 180 miles of Michigan. Some of it would track the same route as the controversial Enbridge 6-B pipeline that was recently replaced.

The company has sent out about 15,000 letters to landowners on and around the proposed line, asking for permission to do land surveys.

ET Rover will then submit a plan to the federal government for review. Vicki Granado is the company's spokesperson.

"It’s important to Energy Transfer that we reach out and communicate and meet people and we talk to them," said Granadao.  "It’s also important that as we do work in these communities, that we are very respectful of people’s property and of all of the environmental concerns."

Jeff Insko is a landowner in Oakland County whose backyard was torn up for the Line 6B project.

"The prospect of having to go through it all over again is utterly demoralizing," said Insko. "People are disheartened and some of them are angry; some of them are stubborn and ready to fight."

ET Rover will hold an open house tonight in Fenton to update residents on the proposal.

– Reem Nasr, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Hydraulic fracturing rig
flickr user Eusko Jaurlaritza / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

What do the people who run Michigan's towns and cities think about the prospect of high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking" in or near their communities?

A new report from the University of Michigan's Center for Local, State and Urban Policy looks into that question.

In Michigan, only a handful of communities report some type of high-volume fracking operation. It's the controversial process used to extract natural gas by drilling into shale deposits.

The center’s program director, Tom Ivacko, joined us to talk about the results.

*Listen to the interview above.

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