Guest column: Don’t play ‘either-or’ game on Michigan energy policy

By Mark Fisk/Michigan Energy, Michigan Jobs

Proposal 3 sparked a significant debate in Michigan about what alternative energy sources we could be using to create jobs, reduce our dependence on imported coal and foreign oil and improve public health by decreasing dangerous pollution in our air and water.

The Proposal 3 campaign raised important issues we must face: It showed Michigan is falling behind more than 30 other states when it comes to embracing stronger renewable energy standards that create jobs and investment in local communities.

Many Michigan residents support more renewable energy and a more diversified energy economy that includes wind, solar, biomass and hydropower.

Mark Fisk is spokesman for the Michigan Energy Michigan Jobs coalition, which “includes more than 300 small businesses, public health advocates, labor unions, environmental and conservation groups, the NAACP and faith leaders across the state.”

And natural gas complements renewable energy – it’s not an adversary, as Kevon Martis’ recent column purports.

The simple fact is Michigan relies on coal for nearly 60 percent of our electricity needs and we don’t produce any of it here. The cost of importing coal has increased 71 percent since 2006; in 2011, Michigan residents spent $1.7 billion to haul coal into our state boundaries.

That data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration is striking when compared to how the cost of renewable energy continues to decline and is cheaper than new coal generation. The Michigan Public Service Commission detailed how the price of renewable energy is expected to continue that steady descent in a February 2012 report.

The MPSC already has said big utilities are on track to meet Michigan’s current renewable energy standard of 10 percent by 2015. Wind-generated electricity is now on par with the cost of electricity from natural gas.

Despite the outcome of Proposal 3, Michigan citizens continue to support more renewable energy, as polls repeatedly show. We need to continue discussing what alternative energy sources can do for our state and not simply rely on what the big utilities think is best for us.

DTE and Consumers Energy have a monopoly on the energy market in our state and when they make decisions to build new facilities, like Consumers recently did in announcing plans for a $750 million natural gas plant in Genesee County, it’s ratepayers who ultimately foot the bill.

We’re the ones who pay for investments that go well – and those that don’t – which is why Michigan residents deserve a bigger say in these decisions so that all options can be weighed equally.

In his special message on energy and the environment in November, Gov. Rick Snyder acknowledged the need to increase Michigan’s renewable energy standard and called for an open dialogue on the issue in the coming year.

Our coalition wants to move forward and expects that dialogue – and the action to follow – to be robust and meaningful for our state.

The time of declaring one source of energy better than another, and betting the farm on it, is a thing of the past. We did that with coal and oil and it didn’t work.

We must embrace a diversified energy portfolio that includes more renewable energy that can complement safely-extracted natural gas, all the while moving away from coal that hits our pocketbooks and harms our health.

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Thu, 01/10/2013 - 11:12am
Check out The Automation Alley Technology business Center ...CEO Ken Rogers Jim Croce CEO NEXTENERGY TARDEC DTE Energy Dr Herman Scheer "EnergyAutonom We need to THINK outside of ANN ARBOR..hightime...
Thu, 01/10/2013 - 11:36am
It is interesting that Mr. Fisk when he mention cost he only does so inreference to the cost of a new gaas facility. I wonder what he would say the cost of an equivalent capacity wind farm would be. I wonder if he would consider the cost of the land or lake for the wind farms, the cost of fabrication, transportation, installation, the electrical grid to delivery the energy, the installation and start up, and the battery/energy storage to ensure the energy is reliable and available around the clock. Mr. Fisk raves about Proposal 3 as an eye opener for public discussion, it is interesting that he doesn't see it as a mandate for technology that doesn't address all of the consideration for a viable economy in this competetive world. Mr. Fisk seems to belittle the value of coal supplied energry simply because it isn't mind in Michigan. I wonder if he would use that same logic to car buyers from around the country. Mr. Fisk seems to feel that he and his merry band of renewable energy 'first' proponents feel smarter that the marketplace when it comes to public choice. All energy sources need to be and have been underconsideration longer that Mr. FIsk and his merry band were even a twinkle in someone eye. The difference seems to be that Mr. Fisk when he some how discovered wind as energy he seem to stop before learning what all goes into the viability of an energy source. I doubt if he has ever had to try to place a windturbine in a place where they don't want it in their back yard, he just want other to deal with those gritty little problems. I support the wide vareity of energy source, I just resist the people who can think past their glorious passion of good intentions.
Cary Shineldecker
Thu, 01/17/2013 - 7:23am
Duane- Your response is logical, honest, and fair. I doubt it will get very far in the pro-wind camp. Keep up the honest, fair, and rational thoughts. Our state and country need them now more than ever.
Fri, 01/11/2013 - 12:12am
How do Consumer's and DTE have a monopoly when I use AEP for my electricity? Why no mention of nuclear?
Tue, 01/15/2013 - 3:06pm
I want to verify this, but I believe the power companies are required to have capacity to deliver electricity when there is no wind or it is cloudy. To do that it would require "back-up" generation plants run with fuels such as coal, gas or nuclear. So if I am correct, then a lot of money will be spent to maintain two systems and could prove to be even more expensive for the consumer in the long run. If anyone can shed additional light on this point I would be appreciative.
Tue, 01/15/2013 - 3:27pm
ahhh, common sense at last!
Tue, 01/15/2013 - 3:29pm
added to my posted reply: My above comment was directed to BOB!
Tom Tanton
Wed, 01/16/2013 - 10:52am
"which is why Michigan residents deserve a bigger say in these decisions so that all options can be weighed equally." So what's a bigger say than the resounding defeat of Prop 3? Wind imposes way more costs than any benefits. Yes, it makes sense for Mi to have a broad portfolio, but that doesn't mean diversity for diversity sake, when some options are costly, unreliable and job-killers. "All of the Above"? No, just those that make sense (and only so much as make sense.)
Wed, 01/16/2013 - 10:53am
I am sorry to be so brash, but what a horrifying misrepresentation of the truth. Wind electricity cannot replace fossil (or nuclear) power plants, plant capital and other fixed costs representing well over half the cost of the electricity from them. All wind electricity can save is some of the fuel they burn. This is typically $0.03 to $0.05/kWH. MPSC Director, but moreover, members of the Michigan General Assembly, please endeavor to comprehend these two reports: is the responsibility of lawmakers to ferret out the facts prior to crafting policy. When it comes to electricity generation, this is a somewhat tall order. I am trying to help you connect the dots.
Thu, 01/17/2013 - 8:47pm
Mr Fisk quote. "We must embrace a diversified energy portfolio that includes more renewable energy that can complement safely-extracted natural gas, ...." Mr Fisk must not have sent his column to be proofread by his "envirnmental supporters" According to the Sierra Club, Fossil fuels have no part in America’s energy future – coal, oil, and natural gas are literally poisoning us. The emergence of natural gas as a significant part of our energy mix is particularly frightening because it dangerously postpones investment in clean energy at a time when we should be doubling down on wind, solar and energy efficiency.” —Robin Mann, Sierra Club President And Voices for Earth Justice quote, Fracking (aka, hydraulic fracturing or industrial gas drilling) is a dangerous way of getting oil and gas and a shortsighted energy strategy. It's poisoning our air and water and on its way to jeopardizing the health of millions more Americans. Also a Greenpeace quote, "Natural gas development must not displace the development of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies. Greenpeace opposes all subsidies to the natural gas sector as they inevitably take place at the expense of energy conservation and efficiency, and most importantly at the expense of renewables" This doesnt sound like environmentatist support for your views on natural gas Mr Fisk. As we say out here in the country...., Never bite the hand that feeds you, because you will be the supper tomorrow.
Fri, 01/18/2013 - 8:16am
The more unreliable industrial wind turbines you erect, the more gas plants you will have to install to keep the grid operational and deliver electricity to consumers. If you goal is to go to primairly natural gas, you can do that without useless turbines funneling money to Wall Street , K Street and Europe. You could also put the gas plants in the city where the electricity is used and avoid hundreds of miles of new high-voltage transmission lines. Wind has no hope of replacing coal and no hope of supplying electrical needs. Please stop lying to the public.
Fri, 01/18/2013 - 3:59pm
While the bulk of Mr. Fisk’s column is filled with the same failed rhetoric rejected by MI voters nearly 2:1 last November, I will focus on a just couple points. My column never referred to natural gas as an adversary to wind. But there are certain technical realities that attend high penetrations of intermittent renewable energy. First, wind energy by itself has extremely limited ability to replace fossil fuel generation plants due to wind energy’s capricious fuel source, Mother Nature. How limited? Let us ask a highly credible source, E. On Netz, the German wind developer and utility grid operator. They also happen to be on the board of directors of the American Wind Energy Association. “As wind power capacity rises, the lower availability of the wind farms determines the reliability of the system as a whole to an ever increasing extent. Consequently the greater reliability of traditional power stations becomes increasingly eclipsed. As a result, the relative contribution of wind power to the guaranteed capacity of our supply system up to the year 2020 will fall continuously to around 4%. In concrete terms, this means that in 2020, with a forecast wind power capacity of over 48,000MW (Source: dena grid study), 2,000MW of traditional power production can be replaced by these wind farms.” There we have it in a nutshell. Assuming E. On isn’t being too generous to wind, wind plants can only replace coal generation plants at a ratio of 24 parts wind to 1 part coal. This has profound implications Using E. On’s ratio, if we intended to use wind alone to replace MI’s 3,000MW Monroe Coal plant we would need to build 72,000MW of wind capacity. That equals 40,000 1.8MW Vestas V-100 turbines. Installed costs for these turbines in Michigan are near $4 million each, for a grand total of $160 billion dollars, not including some earthshattering sum for new transmission, etc. More responsible wind developer like Exelon Wind are now building no more than 3 0-1.8MW turbines per square mile in MI. At that rate we could replace the Monroe Coal Plant by placing 3 0-1.8MW Vestas V-100 wind turbines in each of 13,333 square miles or roughly one third the land mass of the Lower Peninsula. Or more simply, if we put one 50 story tall turbine in every last square mile of the Lower Peninsula, we could replace less than ¼ of Michigan’s coal generation. My point? Wind as a standalone replacement for coal generation is insane.
Fri, 01/18/2013 - 4:00pm
Now, Mr. Fisk falsely suggests that my article painted gas as an “adversary” to wind. But if you look at my discussion above, you see that there is a reason wind advocacy firms like Mr. Fisk’s seek to paint natural gas (and its attendant frac’ing in Michigan’s shale) as a “partner” to wind generation. That is because wind by itself is ridiculous. But by pairing small quantities of wind generation (Michigan still produces less than 1% of our electricity from wind) with flexible natural gas generation, wind’s appalling inefficacy in isolation is hidden from view by the natural gas generation furnishing almost all of the energy of any real value. And this is the reason I compared fossil/wind to natural gas alone; not to paint them as adversaries but to perform a side by side economic comparison. So according to AWEA board member E. On, $160 billion worth of wind turbines might replace 3,000MW of coal generation, reducing MI’s coal emissions by 25%. Or that same $160 billion could build 160,000MW of combined cycle gas generation. That is 8 times Michigan’s AVERAGE GENERATION CAPACITY FROM ALL SOURCES COMBINED. And by replacing coal plants with combined cycle gas turbines, that much gas generation could cut the coal emissions in half across virtually the entire Midwest. Or if we spent that same sum on nuclear generation, we could permanently close every coal plant in Michigan AND in a couple more Midwestern states to boot, permanently reducing our coal emission to zero. I do not pretend to have the omniscience required to accurately predict the correct generation mix for Michigan’s energy future. And judging from past history, no one does. But I do concur with the collective wisdom of Michigan voters in rejecting Michigan Energy, Michigan jobs latest attempt to do just that.