Groundwork Center Digs Deep: Stopping Line 5 and clean energy expo high on docket

Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities is working hard and deep on two major initiatives these days: stopping Enbridge Inc’s Line 5 and organizing this month’s Michigan Clean Energy Conference and Expo.

Line 5 Pipeline

The risk of the Line 5 oil pipeline leaking and polluting the Mackinac Straits was made vividly real on April 1 when what is suspected to be a tugboat anchor dragged across the pipeline, causing three dents. Just a month later, Michigan State University released a study predicting a pipeline rupture lasting two hours could cause $5.6 billion in economic damage to northern Michigan.

Gov. Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette have since called for replacing the 65-year-old pipeline by excavating a massive tunnel under the Straits and running new pipe through it. But the time has come to end Line 5’s risky run through the Straits … not continue it with a new engineering scheme.
On May 30, Groundwork Center released an analysis highlighting that Michigan receives very little economic benefit from the Enbridge-owned Line 5, but the line presents a very great risk to the economy of northern Michigan and to the state economy at large.

Line 5 is a Canadian-owned pipeline transporting oil from western Canadian tar sands to Canadian refineries in the east and other states. The line provides perhaps 100 jobs to Michigan, but endangers hundreds of Michigan businesses and thousands of jobs. If Line 5 were shut down, the increased gasoline cost to Michigan families would equal just $1 per month per car, according to a recent state-funded report.

Enbridge is the largest energy infrastructure company in North America and its pipeline network, including Line 5, is the primary means of transporting oil from western tar sands to eastern markets. Line 5 is a convenient and high-risk shortcut that is important for the Canadian petrochemical industry, but only 2.8 percent of Line 5 oil is refined in our state.

State leaders’ rush to a tunnel solution is especially puzzling considering Canada, due to environmental concerns, recently halted a planned pipeline proposal that would have run east through Ontario north of Lake Superior. Michigan should not shoulder the risk of Canadian oil through the economically essential and globally rare Mackinac Straits when Canada is unwilling to take that risk for its own oil.

The few economic benefits Michigan does receive from Line 5 can be provided for by other means. Propane to the Upper Peninsula can be trucked, shipped or transported in a new four-inch pipeline, according to a state-funded alternatives report. Likewise, Michigan crude oil from northern Michigan wells can be transported by rail, truck or a new eight-inch pipeline.

Groundwork Center released its analysis on Mackinac Island during the Detroit Chamber of Commerce Mackinac Policy Conference, and was joined by several northern Michigan business leaders in the Great Lakes Business Network.

Michigan Clean Energy Conference and Expo

This month, summer solstice reminds us of the power of the sun, the light of which lingers in the northern sky until nearly midnight. The phenomenon sets an ideal stage for a remarkable clean energy conference convened by Groundwork in Traverse City on June 21–23.

Called the Michigan Clean Energy Conference and Expo, the event is designed to be a “boots meet suits” celebration of clean energy possibilities in areas of renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean mobility.

Friday’s conference headliners include international thought leaders like Ken Davies, director of renewable energy for Microsoft (and who also began Google’s renewables program) and Al Hildreth, General Motors global manager of energy efficiency. The day’s panelists range from industrial energy auditors to advocates providing net-zero energy home solutions for people of low and middle income.

Saturday’s clean energy expo is free and open to the public. The event will fill Northwestern Michigan College’s industrial park building with companies that sell and install clean energy systems like solar panels, windmills, whole-house battery storage systems and more. Lending institutions will be on hand to discuss how to finance clean energy for homes and businesses. Even the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum will be there to keep the kids busy with clean energy fun.

Traverse City is the perfect place for a clean energy conference because while the community is small, many organizations are putting innovative and inspiring ideas into motion here.

Consider this: The Chamber of Commerce operates a zero-interest revolving loan fund for businesses improving energy efficiency. Bob Sutherland, owner of Cherry Republic, is using donation dollars to strongly encourage nonprofits to use 100 percent renewable electricity. Our local Habitat for Humanity operates a nationally acclaimed net-zero energy housing development. Traverse City has committed to 100 percent renewable energy for city operations by 2020 and the local power company board is discussing going 100 percent renewable for its entire electrical system – factories, shops and homes – within a couple of decades.

Traverse City’s natural beauty is itself an inspiration for considering possibilities and making new connections. Arrive for Thursday evening’s casual reception at Little Fleet, immerse in Friday’s conference discussions and big think, and get up close to gear and available solutions at Saturday’s expo. With light in the sky until nearly midnight, you will have plenty of time to play and celebrate solar power in your favorite ways: on a bike, on a beach or on a sunny vineyard deck. Tickets are available at

Jeff Smith is the new communications director at Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities. He formerly served as editor at Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine and MyNorth Media for the past 21 years. Reach him at