August 13, 2009

Michigan's Energy Efficiency Opportunity

Reports by Crains, Bay City Times and Gongwer from yesterday's telepresser on the NRDC report, A Green Energy Alternative for Michigan. Reports compiled by Progress Michigan..


A new report out Tuesday says just by turning off a few more lights, using a few more yards of insulation and practicing other common sense acts of energy efficiency Michigan consumers could save $3 billion in electricity costs over the next 20 years.

Synapse Energy Economic, a consulting firm on energy and environmental issues, was hired to review Michigan's energy plan by the Natural Resources Defense Council in Chicago.

The report: A Green Energy Alternative for Michigan, is "a deep analysis" of the state's projected electricity demand, the liabilities associated with air and global warming pollution, as well as the opportunities offered by clean energy technologies for job creation, industrial investment, and resilience in the face of changing circumstances.

While he seemed to favor alternative fuels over fossil, wind topping them all, author David Schlissel said the best way to provide for the state's power demands is actually an aggressive energy efficiency program.

Based on demand that is decreasing now and then projected to go flat, energy efficiency, combined with 27,000 giga-watt hours of power from clean energy technologies can fulfill the state's power needs, the report stated.

The report's conclusions are contrary to the 21st Century Energy Plan submitted to the Public Service Commission in 2007, which didn't take the recession into account. The new report found demand will actually have decreased by about 10 percent over two years by the end of this year.

"It's a sad reflection of the economy, but it's also an opportunity for the state to expand the types of energy it uses without having to worry about meeting new energy demands," said Mr. Schlissel.

But Jeff Holyfield, spokesperson for Consumers Energy disagreed, saying one can't just look at Michigan's demand during a recession and base future needs upon it.

"We've seen demand drop during hard times before but it rises after and keeps rising," he said. "We can't use the drop in demand to delay new power plants because there's such a long lead time to get them going. If you wait until you really need the power to start building it, then you're too late."

The report also reviewed plans by Consumers Energy, including its projections that building a new coal fired plant will have a positive environmental impact because it will replace older, less efficient plants.

The timing of the report coincides with the closing of the public comment period for the new coal-burning plant Consumers is planning to build near Bay City.

Anne Woiwode, state director for the Sierra Club, said she expects there will be about 5,000 comments against the coal plant.

"It's very clear that it's time for Michigan to move beyond dirty coal," she said.

But Mr. Holyfield said he'd expect that just as many people probably commented in favor of the Bay City project, which is set to be generating about 830 Megawatts per hour of power by 2017, enough power to fuel a city of 535,000 people.

In sum, said Mr. Schlissel, despite what Consumers Energy repeatedly says, there is no such this as "clean burning coal."

"The new plants are less dirty for some criteria pollutants, but they still emit mercury, small particulates, CO2 and five other greenhouse gases," he said.

Overall, Mr. Holyfield said, he agrees with the report that everyone could be doing a better job at energy efficiency and demand side management (lowering peak usage amounts).

In fact, in Consumer's updated plan, wind and other renewable energy power sources are blended with "clean coal," since it burns 10 to 15 percent cleaner than in years past, taking a well rounded approach to energy use the way the report does, he said.

But, Mr. Holyfield says he stops short at saying that simply by aggressively maintaining efficiency and using alternative fuels to fill in the gaps, the state would be able to provide enough power.

Scott Simons, spokesperson for DTE Energy, agreed.

He said even though his company offers a slew of incentives for customers to trim back their energy usage, trade in their energy guzzling appliances for new ones and use alternative fuels, "there will always be a need for fossil fuels or nuclear power. The wind doesn't blow all the time and the sun doesn't shine at night," he said. "But we still need energy, especially on those 80 degree days when people are cranking up their air conditioners."

Both utility officials said they plan to use wind primarily to meet the renewable fuel standard of 10 percent by 2015, adding that even if they wanted to invest more in alternative fuels, at a cost of about three times what fossil fuels cost, it would be prohibitive for most consumers.

But a mix of energy efficiency programs and wind energy usage could be good news for the economy if a study conducted by the University of Massachusetts is accurate.

According to Ms. Woiwode, the university compared how many jobs a $1 million investment would bring in coal, wind and in energy efficiency, and energy efficiency won by a long shot, with 17 jobs created for every $1 million invested, compared to 6.9 jobs in coal and 13 in wind.

As for what policymakers can do, the report said they "are on the cusp of making important decisions regarding the state's energy future."

Establishing the renewable mandate was a good start and making the 21st Century Energy Plan was also laudable, although that plan is already out of date and needs revision, the report concluded, adding that the state is also still too reliant on coal power.

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