ESCANABA - Concerns about Michigan's future energy needs were discussed by state government officials and local energy company representatives at a forum Tuesday at Bay College.
The town hall meeting, held in Bay College's Heirman Center, was hosted by Rep. Ed McBroom and addressed questions and concerns of the local community. Panelists taking part in the discussion included members of the Michigan House Energy and Technology Committee, which McBroom serves, and local energy company representatives.
One item discussed during the energy forum was the 25x'25 initiative for 25 percent of America's energy to come from renewable resources like wind, solar, biomass, and hydroelectricity by the year 2025. Members of the committee voiced their concerns that this goal would mean a spike in energy prices.
Ken Horn, chair of the committee and representative of Michigan's 94th DIstrict, said this would likely be a "death warrant" for industries in the state.
"We're going to see factories moving out like crazy and energy prices are going to go up," said Horn.
State Sen. Tom Casperson agreed, saying he had previously not supported a 10 percent mandate when he was in the state House of Representatives, since he felt it promoted wind and solar energies for potential incentives more than it did for hydroelectric or biomass.
"One of those things we'd like to change is some of those incentives," said Casperson. "Not to disincentivize wind, but to equalize some of the other alternatives."
He said currently power companies have a better advantage by going after wind and solar due to these certain incentives.
Tom Harrell, general manager for the Alger-Delta Co-Op, headquartered in Gladstone, said he also had some concerns with 25x'25, after speaking about it with members of the Michigan Electric Cooperatives Association.
"We figured that the price increase that we would see in co-ops would be somewhere around ... 15 percent and that's not including the transmission costs and some of the other costs that have yet to be calculated," he explained.
Another concern he had is if language pertaining to this standard was added to the state's Constitution.
He said the Association did not believe the state Constitution was the right place for that.
"We think that technology will march forward rapidly in the energy arena just as it has been, and we want to have the flexibility to work with that technology, use that technology, and not necessarily be constrained by something that's in the state Constitution," he said.
He also had concerns whether renewable energy under the 25x'25 goal would need to come from within the state. If not, he believes this would hamper the Upper Peninsula due to its proximity to Wisconsin.
"Right now there are provisions and all the rules and regulations in the state that give us credit for using renewable energy, even if it comes from outside the state, because those rules and regulations now recognize the special circumstances here in the Upper Peninsula," he explained.
Another topic discussed was progress on Heritage Sustainable Energy's Garden Wind Farm on the Garden Peninsula. Bob Powell, site manager of the Garden Wind Farm, said they are currently working on the final 13 turbines, with the bases for each of the turbines completed approximately three weeks ago.
They hope to have everything up and running by mid-September.
One of the turbines has been in use since mid-February.
"Each turbine puts out two megawatts an hour maximum output, so the total output for each turbine is 48 megawatts a day," explained Powell.
He said there has been good wind velocity on the Garden Peninsula and Heritage is currently working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on an avian study.
"We've had people out there since February monitoring bird activity in the area - migratory birds, bats and other species," he said.
With the one wind turbine currently running there has not been one bird fatality, he said.
The legislators and power company representatives also discussed the future of hydroelectric generation in the U.P., which Dennis Derricks, representing UPPCO and the Wisconsin Public Service Corp., said may have a great future in store.
"I think hydro has a long standing history in UPPCO and in the U.P. in general, as well as Wisconsin," he said. "Some areas have become a little bit more challenging. UPPCO has run into some situations with some of our small facilities as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission imposes one or more safety and other requirements on it that makes improvements to those dams challenging, and at times, uneconomic."
Derricks said he feels any new hydroelectric facility opportunities are pretty limited since the good areas for this type of energy are already taken advantage of, and because federal regulations for a new facility would be daunting to overcome.
Other topics briefly discussed included the potential for geothermal energy in the U.P. and legislation related to smart meters.
Aric Nesbitt, representing Michigan's 80th district, Semco Energy representative Tim Lubbers, and Delta County Commissioner Dave Rivard, who has experience working for MichCon and was representing DTE Energy, were also in attendance.
The town hall meeting was the kick-off of a U.P.-wide tour for the House committee members including trips to Presque Isle Power Plant in Marquette, Tilden Mines in Empire, Verso Paper in Quinnesec, and a round-table meeting with area businesses.