Opinion | Urgent need for clean energy should unite Michigan, not divide us

Major General Mike Stone is Commanding General of the 46th Military Police Command, headquartered in Lansing, Michigan.  He previously served on the U.S. Army staff in the Pentagon.

In my 32 years in the Army, I have observed triumphs and success in policies, programs and projects. I have observed wicked disagreement over clean energy and coal initiatives and I have observed deep political divisions that did not make sense to me. Today, the national debate over our nation’s clean energy future is escalating and most of the headlines dwell on the disagreement.

Despite this uproar, I think Michigan is a model for consensus, one that shows how all of us can work together to solve our country’s need for a resilient, clean energy economy.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Gov. Rick Snyder and the U.S. Army share a passion for Clean and Reliable Energy. In 2012, Gov. Snyder said that we must make sure our energy choices always recognize our responsibility to protect Michigan’s environment. 

In 2015, the U.S. Army said that future efforts must exceed federal (and state) energy, environmental, and sustainability requirements codified in legislation, regulations, presidential (and gubernatorial) mandates, directives and policies. In 2019, Gov. Whitmer said that the state of Michigan must accelerate new and existing policies to reduce carbon pollution and promote clean energy deployment at the state and federal levels. I see a lot of common ground in energy policy to build upon, and we need to focus on these similarities. 

One of our nation’s top priorities is energy security. As far back as 2012, Gov. Snyder pointed out that Michigan has an energy reliability challenge, and all of Michigan became acutely aware of the importance of energy security on Jan. 30, 2019. We were hit with record-low temperatures and everyone across the state was asked to conserve energy due to a natural gas disruption. Gov. Whitmer responded rapidly and called for a review of the supply and deliverability of natural gas, electricity and propane. This review is one of our most immediate opportunities. 

The Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) will soon present Gov. Whitmer its recommendations to improve energy security in our state and in particular to account for changing system conditions and extreme weather events. Enhancing clean energy options — both in Michigan and nationwide — is a solution to prevent similar crises in the future. 

Recently, I testified before the Michigan House Military, Veterans and Homeland Security Committee per an invitation from the Michigan Conservative Energy Forum, where I outlined a wide range of advanced energy strategies the military is undertaking to strengthen our readiness and keep us energy-secure.

We live in an ever complex and changing world, and I would like to suggest that future energy resiliency projects consider cyber and electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) threats, which can disrupt or damage electronics equipment, transformers, transmission lines and communications systems. Any of these disruptions could deal a serious blow to the U.S. economy. 

As Michigan moves forward, I recommend that we consider an outline from the U.S. Army’s Energy Security and Sustainability Strategy. It has five goals: 

  • make informed decisions (educate); 
  • optimize use (decrease resource demand); 
  • assure access (diversify, maximize flexibility in system design and use, and reduce vulnerability and risk); 
  • build resiliency (foster adaptability); 
  • drive innovation. 

To improve our nation’s and our state’s energy security, we need to deploy science, technology, engineering, operations and expertise to increase resource-effective solutions. Then, we need to expand collaboration efforts and work with industry, academia, and state, local and federal government to develop sustainable and resilient solutions. 

With regard to technology, we must be open to emerging clean energy solutions that go beyond the current state of the art. When the recommendations come back from the MPSC, I ask that everyone listen to one another. Keep an open mind to new concepts (as well as some old) and collaborate so Michigan can be a national clean energy and resiliency leader.

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Paul Jordan
Sat, 06/29/2019 - 10:52am

Minimizing our carbon dependence is critical. While continued advancements and reliance on alternative power sources is extremely important, we should lose sight of the fact that the greatest short-term gains may be achieved through relatively low-cost investments in increasing energy efficiency. We can't wait for government to act. Each of us can do what she can to, for example, increase the energy efficiency of our homes. If we use less air conditioning or home heating, we take important steps towards reducing carbon dependence.
Another thing is to simply use less--buy less (but perhaps better made) stuff because its creation ALL involves using carbon-based energy.

Dan Moerman
Sat, 06/29/2019 - 10:57am

Fine. But, why was DTE allowed to change the way rooftop solar people are compensated for power that they feed into the grid? Often enough on really hot sunny days when lots of people have their a/c on and need a lot of power. We rooftop people help everybody who uses electricity, especially in high use circumstances. So, why was DTE allowed to change this long standing policy? (I'm guessing that someone got paid. But that's just a guess.)

Mon, 07/01/2019 - 5:15pm

Or maybe because rooftop solar hobbists, besides from providing an inconsequential and unreliable amount of power were being overpaid to and at the detriment of the regular rate payers?

Sat, 06/29/2019 - 10:58am

From your keyboard to God's ears!

Frank Koob
Sat, 06/29/2019 - 11:07am

I as an individual want to be part of the solution, not the problem. As a result of this desire, I subscribed yesterday to 100% clean energy from my power provider. I found that 100% alternative power sources do not cost as much extra as I imagine. Even if I were to pay a lot extra and I could I would do that to help in my way deal with the climate warming crisis that we in Michigan and the whole world are experiencing.

Nancy Skinner
Sat, 06/29/2019 - 12:16pm

Thank you! You're spot on. Just by standardizing the JPlug for Electric Vehicles, Michigan can transform the world to EVs. Building out our EV Charging Infrastructure to workplaces and Wi-Fi fast charging for Fleets of all kinds is good for autos, utilities (will make more charging revenues and can transition to clean energy faster), and Labor can be put back to work making the Charging Stations themselves here in Michigan. I call it a Grand EV Bargain. As for Security, the Fleet batteries can be Bi-Directional, and when we do hit increasing peak loads, the utilities can coordinate to buy back the stored energy. Oh the Climate wins too!

Kevin Grand
Sat, 06/29/2019 - 12:24pm

While I don't disagree with the overlying premise of this piece (including the pressing need to harden the grid), exactly what are we supossed to be converting over to and what should we be using until then?

Many of the pages at the link above didn't elaborate very much on that.

Solar? It will take significant amount of land to generate the necessary levels of power. And that's when the sun is shining.

Wind? The life expectancy of the turbine farms is shaping up to be significantly less that what we were originally told. Also not of much use when there is no wind.

Batteries? That will require a significant investment utilizing resources from places in the world that can cut us off if political winds change (no pun intended).

The global warming alarmists would like nothing more than to immediately shut down every generating plant that runs on coal and gas and subsequently send America back into the late 19th Century in the process.

I don't see their "solution" resonating very well with the rest of Michigan when they don't have things like air conditioning (or refrigeration for food) to even something as basic as electric lighting.

Mon, 07/01/2019 - 7:13pm

PV panels are an environmental disaster too at both ends! As are batteries! But they have good intentions and besides the damage happens far away and out of sight in third world nations! Electric cars will not be not be a thing for decades in the north where we need heat in the winter and batteries don't work well or in south where they want AC whipping out battery range ... that leaves a few places in CA! Existing battery technology isn't moving near fast enough to help. The only realistic non CO2,power, nuclear, is a big no go with the Green New Deal crowd, go figure.

Mon, 07/22/2019 - 8:57pm

I agree the chemical in solar panels are a concern when it comes time to retire the panel and batteries also have issues with recycling them. Nuclear in France has a system where their standard nuclear plants old rods go to a plant that uses the rods instead of the ones at the lower levels, instead of a nuclear waste depot. Since it takes several years for the rods to get to the point it can't be used at a nuclear plant they have time to figure out a way to get more use out of it. They believe in themselves being focused enough to find solutions, although Japan's problem with weather has deterred countries many countries in Europe away from nuclear.

Be diverse; even consider CO2 heavy power with capture to grow plants (i.e. trees, flowers, sod, ...) and do other useful things. Consider the possible byproducts of producing energy or any product that is useful and be an entrepreneur and create more jobs and help more people live better. Make it easy for people to do fundraisers by recycling and/or start/run businesses that use recycled products. Get more high speed internet options for people in inner city and rural areas to work from home over the internet (save gas and less congestion), since competitive high speed internet can help people help both themselves and their family reach their potential.

Don't be a state that limits the potential of one part of the state at the expense of another for political gains. Think of the state's long term future and try to help the whole state improve.

richard scott
Sat, 06/29/2019 - 1:41pm

Cannot agree more. Grassroots changes in local energy sources to wind and solar is refreshing.

Sat, 06/29/2019 - 4:29pm

I think the general is in violation of the wearing of the uniform and potentially the Hatch Act. By appearing in uniform he gives the appearance of a DoD concurrence of the energy policy. By wearing the uniform in a public forum he implicity implies DoD concurrence. There is nothing wrong about providing his opinion in civilian attire as a private citizen, but unfortunately this article does provide any information.

Albert Calderon
Sat, 06/29/2019 - 5:06pm

We can make clean energy four ways ,sequester carbon dioxide, turn flood water into productive irrigation water and protect the road surface no more potholes no more 100 car pileups. Innovation.

Gary Lea
Sun, 06/30/2019 - 8:12am

Yes, first harden our current energy sources against cyber and EMP threats. Education and research supporting nuclear fusion and molten salt reactors will (I believe) result in more clean energy and increased security.

Sun, 06/30/2019 - 8:19pm

Sounds good, broad enough with 5 goals we can all strive for a better future. All of Michigan needs to improve....

Mon, 07/01/2019 - 1:01am

General ,
With all due respect to your office and service, it is all politics when it is about public policy. Your article isn’t about ‘solutions’, it is about people positioning for political leverage, personal political power.
If you truly want us to put aside the politics, then you need to accept that the foundation of energy and the solutions to that issue is based in science, such as the laws of thermodynamics. To exclude science is to ensure this stays a partisan political issue. If you want to incorporate science into the discussion then you need to provide a well-defined problem, you need to describe the expectations/results clearly, and we need an established list of criteria to direct solutions. For without those three elements we have the situation you are complaining about.
I am concerned that your seeming preoccupation with consensus is biased by the structure/culture of your career, what the ‘general’ says everyone does. My reservation, from both a brief long past stint in the service and experience with government agencies is such a mindset discourages diversity of perspective, ignores the wisdom of the group and will strive to drive us to blind acceptance of a report by, the politically designated, ‘elite’ group at MPSC. It would be much more valuable to have structured conversations that gathered the thoughts, concerns, and ideas from a much broader range of perspectives, to learn the whys and how’s of the thinking, to recognize that with the body of Michigan residents are people with knowledge of the science of energy at MPSC level, and who have for their working career been striving for maximizing both efficiencies and reliabilities.
In addition to having a clear description of what the problem is so we are all focused on the same problem and have a common understanding of what it is. We also need clear definitions of the terms to be used. What is meant when referring to ‘clean’ and ‘reliable’ energy sources? Do you mean energy sources in used during construction, does ‘clean’ mean never create CO2 emissions or do you mean only the energy source to generate the energy? Are you expecting the transmission lines for the electrical grid to be made without generating CO2 emissions? What is ‘clean’? As for ‘reliable’, what do you mean; is it the delivery of energy around the clock, does it matter that a ‘clean’ energy source only generates energy when the sun is shining on Michigan, or when the wind is blowing [at a minimum velocity], or does it simply mean it does break down?
Rather than tell us what we should accept/support, it would be much more useful to help frame the issue, establish the criteria, and describe the expected results with performance metrics.
A point of information; the learning of science and technology is an evolution, it isn’t fixed by a point in time, the creativity of the American people has proven phenomenal [just look around] to see how science and it application is always evolving, even when applied to energy. A well-defined problem with well-established expectations has been the means to release the unbound inventiveness and efforts of people all across Michigan and America for generations. Government has a proven record of writing establishing policies/strategies that are based on hindsight and structured for command and control of the practices of others. If you want an effective policy/strategy we need it to be performance driven, designed to encourage change and assimilation of changing science and ideas, it needs to be designed for the future not from the past.

Lisa Knowles
Mon, 07/01/2019 - 7:42am

Thank you for helping remind everyone that energy issues our national security issues and safety issues.