renewable energy

Courtesy photo / Holland BPW

This week, Jack Lessenberry and Emily Fox discuss Detroit’s pending bankruptcy exit, confusion over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and a Senate bill that would count the burning of tires, used oil and other waste products as renewable energy.


Michigan state capitol.
Jimmy Emerson / flickr.com

Lawmakers are at odds over a bill that would change Michigan's definition of renewable energy to include  electricity generated by burning tires, used oil and industrial waste.

The Republican-backed legislation is pending in the Senate after it was approved last week on a mostly party-line vote in the House.

(courtesy Consumers Energy)

Michigan connected more wind farms to the power grid than almost every other state last year, according to a report released Thursday by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Michigan added 175 megawatts of wind power in 2013 – more than 46 other states.

Morguefile

Michigan can meet almost one-third of its electricity needs from in-state renewable energy sources by 2030 – at virtually no increase in cost to consumers.

That's according to a Union of Concerned Scientists report released on Wednesday. 

Sam Gomberg is an energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists and author of the report.

Last month, Governor Rick Snyder called for less coal power and more renewable energy in Michigan. Utilities are in a good position, but questions remain over whether lawmakers will be able to act before the state's current energy standards expire. We found out more on today's show.

Then, of all the physics professors in the United States, only 14% are women. Why do some female scientists give up? And what can be done to help female students and minorities succeed?

And, we heard from the BBC on how China had become the world leader for wind power.

Also, a group of “free skiers” have found a new ski location in the abandon buildings of Detroit.

First on the show, it's Thursday, time for the first check-in of this New Year with Detroit News business columnist Daniel Howes.

Understandably, he has the auto industry on his mind as we prepare for next week's opening of the North American International Auto Show. He got an early look at the show, and he joined us today to discuss it.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

It’s been seven years since America hit the accelerator on corn-based ethanol fuels. Homegrown corn became the centerpiece of a push to find an alternative to foreign oil.

President Bush signed this expansion of the Renewable Fuel Standard in 2007, promising it would make us “stronger, cleaner and more secure.”

But, as is so often the case, something that offers great promise on one hand, takes its toll on the other hand. So the view of corn-based ethanol very much depends upon which side of the fence you’re standing on.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Michigan could deregulate the electricity market, allowing people to choose where they buy electricity.

In downtown Frankenmuth there are two very popular restaurants: the Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn and right across the street, Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth. Both are famous for their chicken dinners. And the owners are cousins -- both of them are Zehnders.

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.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

This Week in Michigan Politics, Jack Lessenberry and Christina Shockley discuss the state of child well-being in Michigan, and look ahead to Governor Rick Snyder's energy plan he'll announce Thursday. They also take a look at legislation likely to be taken up in early 2014.

Renewable resources, such as wind and solar, are likely to supply 10% of Michigan electricity by 2015, as state law mandates. On today’s program, we looked at a recent report that says we could be doing more, boosting the number to 30% by 2035.

Then, the losing streak of Medora, Indiana's high school basketball team compelled two Michigan filmmakers to move there, and to tell the story of this small industrial town and the people who live there.

And, federal Judge Stephen Rhodes gave Detroit the go-ahead to slash its public pension and healthcare benefits. What will this mean for Detroit retirees?

First on the show, it was one year ago this day that the State Legislature and Governor Rick Snyder passed a set of bills into law that made some very contentious history in our State.

On December 11th, 2012, Michigan became the nation's 24th right-to-work state.

The laws took effect in March, making it illegal to force workers to pay union dues as a condition of employment.

One year later, has right-to-work changed Michigan?

We were joined for this discussion by Michigan State University economist Charley Ballard, and, from the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Wendy Block.

warrenski / Creative Commons

Our state is working to get its energy needs met by wind and other renewable sources.

Right now, state law mandates that electric providers must obtain 10% of their electricity sales from renewable resources by 2015.

We're on track to do that.

But a recent report turned in to Governor Snyder says we could boost that to 30% by 2035. And when compared to neighboring states, Michigan's Renewable Portfolio Standard, the RPS, is not as robust as it could be.

John Quackenbush is the Chairman of the State Public Service Commission who led the renewable energy study at the Governor's request, and James Clift is the director of the Michigan Environmental Council. They joined us today to discuss the issue.

Listen to the full interview above.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

In the United States, we’re using more renewable energy than we were a few years ago.

A.J. Simon is the group leader for energy with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The lab just released a chart outlining the nation’s energy use for the year 2012.

“We are significantly expanding our use of wind energy, the technology for wind turbines has come a long way in the past decade or so, and both federal and state policy in terms of renewable portfolio standards as well as financial incentives have encouraged a lot of utilities to install a lot of wind power so we’re seeing huge growth in the generation of electricity from wind," he says.

warrenski / Creative Commons

Check this chart out. Interact with it.

The green circles hovering over each of the fifty states represents each state's green energy consumption, based on recent data from the Energy Information Administration. 

The map was created by Mother Jones, and is a visual aid to understand how much each state used solar, wind, hydro and geothermal energy. 

Courtesy photo / Novi Energy

When you find an anaerobic digester in Michigan, they’re usually set up on large scale dairy farms.

Michigan State University has a good YouTube video showing how the process works at the digester on their campus.

Bacteria turn all that cow manure into methane, which is burned in engines to create renewable electricity. But now there’s a new kind of digester in Fremont, Michigan that’s consuming much more than cow poop.

Photo by Haris Alibasic / City of Grand Rapids

The mayor of Grand Rapids wants all of the electricity for the city's operations to come from renewable sources by the year 2020.

I recently met up with Grand Rapids Fire Captain Tony Hendges to check in on the city's progress.

He led the way down a dark stairwell to the basement of the Leonard Street Fire Station. There’s some exercise equipment on one side of the room. On the other side are a bunch of large white metal boxes and lots of new pipes coming out of them: a geothermal system.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

In Michigan, we get more than half of our electricity from coal.  All of that coal is imported from other states.

In a couple weeks, you’ll get a chance to weigh in on how we’ll use energy in the future.

When Governor Rick Snyder gave his Special Message on Energy and the Environment last fall, he said he wanted to hold forums around the state to talk about energy.

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.

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

Snyder pushes renewable energy and drilling for natural gas

Governor Rick Snyder gave a special address on energy and the environment Wednesday. Highlights of his address include a push for more renewable energy and more drilling for natural gas. As the Lansing State Journal reports,

"The Republican governor gave natural gas a central role in an energy policy that seeks greater efficiency and improvements to infrastructure such as pipelines and the electric transmission grid. It proposes establishing a “strategic natural gas reserve” designed to make the resource more affordable and defends the practice of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” to extract gas from deep underground."

GOP pushing for right-to-work in lame duck

Republicans are still working to make Michigan a right-to-work state. This comes after voters rejected a ballot proposal to enshrine collective bargaining in the state constitution. As the Detroit News reports,

"Today could be the last chance to introduce a bill making union membership optional as a condition of employment in the private and public sectors to get it passed by Dec. 13. That's the day legislative leaders hope to head home for the holidays."

Sorry Michigan, no one won the Powerball jackpot in the state

"The Michigan Lottery says two Powerball tickets worth $1 million each were sold in the state. Officials say the tickets were sold at a liquor store in Kentwood and a CVS pharmacy in Dearborn. The Michigan tickets matched five numbers drawn last night, but not the Powerball number. Powerball officials said early Thursday that tickets sold in Arizona and Missouri matched all six numbers to win the $579.9 million jackpot," the AP repots.

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.

I suspect some people are having a harder time deciding how to vote on the renewable energy amendment -- Proposal 3 -- than on any of the other five proposals on this year’s ballot.

The others are pretty straightforward. Either you think the emergency manager law is necessary, or you don’t.  Either you think collective bargaining should be a constitutional right, or you don’t.

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

This is a story I produced for NPR's Morning Edition.  Editors were interested in Proposal 3 in Michigan because, if it passes, it would be the first time a state constitution would be amended for a Renewable Portfolio Standard. We'll be looking at this proposal in more detail in future reports.

There are business effects to some of the more than 170 statewide ballot measures to be decided in next month's elections. In California, voters will determine if labels should be required on genetically-modified food. People in Arkansas will vote whether to increase taxes for highways and bridges. And one measure in Michigan is capturing attention - whether the state constitution should be amended to change how utilities get their electricity.

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

Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) promote the use of renewable energy by requiring that a minimum percentage or amount of energy sold in a state come from sources like wind, solar, biomass, or hydropower. 

There are currently 29 states with some sort of RPS in place. Michigan is one of them. 

Michigan’s current standard, passed by the legislature in 2008, calls for 10 percent of retail electricity sales to be derived from renewable sources by 2015.

Congressman Fred Upton
Republican Conference / Creative Commons

Congressman Fred Upton says he’s in favor of getting rid of federal subsidies for the oil and gas industry.

He made the comments during a debate last Monday night in Kalamazoo. The debate was hosted by The Kalamazoo Gazette/Mlive.com and public radio station WMUK. You can hear the entire debate on their website.

During a discussion about renewable energy, Upton said the country “doesn’t need tax subsidies” for any energy companies.

Upton railed against President Obama’s investment in failed solar panel company Solyndra.

“We don’t need subsidies like this, particularly when the taxpayer losses every dime in their pocket. So I’m for putting all of these on an even footing. Let’s look at the oil and gas subsidies. Let’s taken them away. Let’s let them compete just like everyone else at the same level. We can do that with the tax code to take those special provisions away,” Upton said.

wikimedia commons

A ballot proposal to increase Michigan’s renewable energy usage wouldn't have a big impact on utility rates, according to a new report commissioned by supporters of Proposal 3.

That "25 x '25" measure would require amend the state constitution to require Michigan to generate 25% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025.

The Michigan Environmental Council sponsored the report, performed by independent analysts Martin Cohen and George Sansoucy.

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

Sikkema says renewable energy mandate would drive up energy costs

"The campaigns for and against Proposal 3 on the November ballot are debating the cost 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 compared the costs of renewable generation to the costs of using coal or natural gas. He found renewable energy will be more expensive. 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," Rick Pluta reports.

Lawmakers to look at legal aid for poor defendants

A hearing will take place this week to set standards for public defenders in Michigan who work with low-income people. "Michigan's public defender system is consistently rated one of the worst in the country. Michigan has no statewide training requirements for public defenders, and many public defenders say they have to take on too many cases to make a living. But they could be created soon. Lawmakers will take the first step this week. They'll hold a hearing Thursday on a bill that would create a new commission to set those standards," Sarah Hulett reports.

Enbridge has paid a $3.7 million fine

"Federal regulators say the Canadian owner of a pipeline that ruptured in 2010 and dumped more than 800,000 gallons of oil into a southwestern Michigan river has paid a $3.7 million fine. Enbridge Inc. owns a pipeline running from Griffith, Ind., to Sarnia, Ontario. The pipeline burst near Marshall, Mich., spewing oil into the Kalamazoo River system. The federal agency says the penalty against Enbridge is the largest it has imposed. It cited Enbridge for 24 violations of hazardous liquid pipeline regulations, including failure to fix corrosion discovered as far back as 2004. It also says Enbridge failed to detect the rupture for 17 hours," the AP reports

user imma / MorgueFile.com

The campaign to put renewable energy targets into the state constitution filed 550,000 petition signatures today to qualify for the November ballot.

This campaign pits utility companies and their employee unions against energy entrepreneurs who see a business opportunity in amending Michigan’s constitution. The amendment would require energy providers to generate a quarter of the state’s electricity using wind, solar power or other renewable resources by 2025.

Green Energy Futures / Flickr

The Michigan Energy, Michigan Jobs coalition wants to increase the state’s renewable energy standard to 25 percent by 2025.

That would mean that a quarter of all the energy used in Michigan would come from renewable sources like the wind and sun.

The coalition is trying to collect enough signatures to put the issue before voters in November. They'll need to collect a minimum of 322,609 valid signatures by July 9th, 2012. Organizers say their goal is to turn in 500,000 signatures.

And, interestingly enough, the proposal is getting support from both Democrats and Republicans.

Steve Linder is President of Sterling Corporation, a Republican consulting firm. He says his organization is behind the proposal for business reasons. “While we don’t like government mandates, this allows us to use manufacturing capacity in Michigan rather than bringing in $1.6 billion worth of coal from West Virginia and Pennsylvania. So, this is really a business to business ballot initiative and we are very comfortable in making the business and economic case that this keeps dollars in our state and it keeps us at the cutting age of new types of manufacturing technology,” Linder says.

Mark Fisk, a Democrat, is co-partner of Byrum & Fisk, a political consulting firm. He says he’s working on behalf of the initiative because of the jobs it’ll bring to the state and the environmental benefits of renewable energy. “This initiative will create thousands of new Michigan jobs and help boost Michigan’s economy by building a clean energy industry right here in our state. And, it gives Michigan cleaner and healthier air and water. It’ll protect our Great Lakes, reduce asthma and lung disease, and ultimately save lives,” Fisk says.

Mariusz Paździora / wikimedia commons

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - Federal officials say a deal to speed up consideration of proposed offshore wind farms in the Great Lakes should cut red tape and open the way for more clean energy production.

Officials announced the agreement Friday between the federal government and Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York and Pennsylvania.

There are no wind turbines in the Great Lakes now. But one project is in the works for Lake Erie.

Nancy Sutley of the White House Council on Environmental Quality said there's "tremendous" potential for wind energy development in the region. She said it's hard to know when other offshore wind proposals may arise, but government agencies should have an efficient system in place to evaluate them.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

This year federal regulators will keep a close eye on the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant. The plant had three safety violations last year; that makes it one of only four nuclear plants in the nation with such a bad safety rating.

About 700 people work at Palisades every day. It’s one of (if not) the largest employers in Van Buren County. The plant is the county’s largest taxpayer. Those tax dollars go to a number of public schools, libraries, a hospital and local governments.

People who live by the plant near South Haven (Covert Township) are still trying to figure out what the safety violations mean to them.  It’s making others, like Barbara Geisler and her husband Maynard Kauffman, uncomfortable.

(L)Brian Robert Marshall/geograph.org (R) USFWS

Michigan voters may soon be asked whether utility companies should be required to collect a fourth of their energy from renewable sources such as solar, wind, and hydropower. The state Board of Canvassers approved the language of a petition that calls on utilities to draw more from clean energy sources by 2025.

Mark Fisk is with a coalition working to get the question on the ballot this November. He told the panel reviewing the petition that the fee increases people would pay for more clean energy would be small.

“The average rate-payer would pay no more in a year than $15 for the implementation of this proposal,” said Fisk. “Moreover, we have analysis that shows over time this initiative would reign in the cost of rising energy costs, compared to doing nothing.”

The Board of Canvassers also approved a petition that would end prohibition of marijuana in the state for anyone age 21 or older.

Matthew Abel is director of Committee for a Safer Michigan, which is leading the petition drive. He said if voters approved the measure, marijuana would still be illegal under federal law.  

“Generally the federal government has a rule of thumb where they tend not to prosecute anyone who has possession of less than 100 plants or 100 kilos of dry material, so generally they stick to larger cases,” Abel said. “But they could prosecute any individual for one single plant or one single gram of marijuana.”

Each petition drive must collect more than 300,000 valid signatures to get the question on the ballot.

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