Michigan’s Energy Future: Get Real, Or Lights Out

By 2016, Michigan will lose 1.3 gigawatts of electricity, enough to power the combined populations of Detroit, Grand Rapids and Lansing! That alarming factoid is found in a new report on electric reliability from Public Sector Consultants (PSC) of Lansing. The report states that Michigan will fall below the standard for reliable electricity supply by 2016 mainly because nine older coal plants will be retired. New emission rules from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are making it too expensive to retrofit older plants, or build new ones.

The report also details the turf war between state and federal regulators that results in higher costs and less predictability for power providers. It makes clear that new regulations from the EPA are hampering utilities’ abilities to provide reliable and affordable energy. And, the EPA isn’t finished, as the PSC report states “cost uncertainty could soon increase with new carbon emission standards proposed under the Clean Air Act.”

Powerful and wealthy environmental groups support the phase out of coal – our primary source of electrical power – believing it causes too much pollution and alters the climate. Coal generates 39 percent of the electricity in this country, and Michigan is even more reliant on coal providing 51 percent of our electric power. So, if we phase out the main source of power, what do we replace it with?

The PSC report recommends more natural gas, more renewable sources and more emphasis on conserving our electric use. Yet the enviro lobby is not entirely on board with natural gas. There’s an effort in Michigan to ban fracking (hydraulic fracturing) as a means to obtain gas from beneath the earth’s surface. Environmental groups have already led successful campaigns to ban fracking in the town of Denton, Texas and the state of New York. And the Sierra Club, operating with a $100 million-a-year budget, is running a campaign against natural gas claiming it “displaces the market for clean energy and harms human health.”

The New York Times reported, “For months, utility companies across New England have been warning customers to expect sharp price increases, for which the companies blame the continuing shortage of pipeline capacity to bring natural gas to the region.” The largest utility in Massachusetts predicts energy bills will increase 37 percent this year. The Massachusetts legislature said allowing more pipeline capacity would allow cheap energy to flood the market making it hard for the wind industry to compete.

The main reason for growth in the wind industry is government mandates. The government has basically ordered power providers to include wind in their mix of production. The wind industry has been subsidized and its competition is being phased out. Wind turbines are not efficient and only produce power when the wind is strong enough.

Consumers Energy just spent $255 million on the Cross Winds Energy Park in Michigan’s upper thumb area – 62 wind turbines spread over 51,000 acres producing 111 megawatts of power … when the wind is blowing hard enough. It would take 12 of these “parks” costing $3 billion to replace the 1.3 gigwatts we’ll lose to coal regulations. The wind doesn’t blow 24/7, so wind turbines only operate at about 30 percent capacity.

By comparison, Wolverine Power wants to build a natural gas plant in Otsego County on 170 acres for $100 million. It will provide power across the state, and won’t be seen from the road.

The environmental lobby seems to go unchallenged. But it’s time to get real. What is the enviro-plan to provide affordable and reliable energy? We’re supposed to curb our electric usage and start driving electric cars? How many wind turbines need to be built, at what cost, and where? Why? We still need reliable base load energy that can only be provided by coal, natural gas or nuclear, all of which are opposed by “the greens.”

Most environmental groups are led by those who see themselves as progressive thinkers, but they stand in the way of progress. Their answer is to stop technological advancements that have led to a head-spinning drop in gasoline and natural gas prices, and replace that with wind turbines and the plea for us to use less energy. Doesn’t sound like progress to me.

If the expansive and powerful environmental lobby has a comprehensive and realistic plan to provide affordable and reliable electricity in Michigan and across the country, I’ve missed it. Until I see such a plan, I see most environmental groups as roadblocks between us and a secure energy future.


Energy production in Michigan


Coal                             51%
Nuclear                        31%
Natural gas                  11%
Renewables                5%
Hydroelectric             1%

Source: Electric Reliability in Michigan: The Challenge Ahead, Public Sector Consultants