Dirty Coal Plants Criticized

February 17, 2008
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LANSING — Michigan may not be able to meet the state’s electricity needs in the future without increasing its energy sources and capacity, experts warn. One problem is coming to a consensus on how to achieve that goal.

Jim Beaubien of Gibraltar, Mich., president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 17, said that Michigan needs more baseload power plants, which can run all the time because they are cheaper to run than natural gas plants, Beaubien said.

Clean Energy Now, a coalition of 10 environmental organizations, says the seven additional coal-fired plants, proposed by utility companies such as Consumers Energy, are unnecessary.

“Michigan is moving toward outdated technology,” Dan Farough said, referring to the proposed coal plants. Farough, executive director of Progress Michigan — a member of Clean Energy Now — said the state should invest in newer and cleaner types of energy instead. Clean energy and energy efficiency is the way to go, he said.

Farough used Pennsylvania as an example, saying the state increased its renewable energy to 18 percent of the energy it uses. It opened the doors to a Spanish-based energy company called Gamesa that built wind farms and turbines and created 2,500 new jobs in Pennsylvania. Farough also said clean energy helps fight global warming because the amount of carbon emitted into the air is lowered.

“Michigan is at an energy crossroad,” said Anne Woiwode, executive director of the Mackinac chapter of the Sierra Club. Woiwode agreed with Farough that Michigan needs to explore more energy options. “We want 20 percent renewable energy by 2020 and a 1 percent energy-efficiency increase per year, not more dirty coal plants,” she said.

Renewable energy uses geothermal heat, wind power and sunlight, all of which replenish naturally.

Pat Devlin, executive director at Michigan State Building Trades Council, said there should continue to be a blending of energy sources.

“Alternative energy will not replace a power plant,” he said.

Wind turbines, for instance, will not operate all the time because there is no guarantee of wind, Devlin said. “On the hottest day of the year, there was no wind.”

A minister from Wyandotte said an increase in wind turbines would be good.

Rev. Charles Morris is a member of Michigan Interfaith Power and Light, a coalition of 250 congregations that promotes and implements energy conservation, energy efficiency, renewable energy and related sustainable practices. The coalition came together to fight high carbon emissions that it blames for a rise in asthma in children and an increase in global warming. It is trying to eliminate coal-fired plants.

Critics argue that an increase of renewable energy and conservation of energy won’t be enough for Michigan in the long run.

“All three sources are needed,” said the executive director of the Michigan Municipal Electric Association. “One by itself will not answer energy questions.”

Jim Weeks said the Midwest is short on baseload power plants and that’s why the plants have been proposed.

The 21st Century Energy Plan was prepared by Public Sector Consultants Inc. for the Michigan Municipal Electric Association and Protect Michigan to identify the capacity needed, Weeks said. Protect Michigan is a coalition of labor unions and business organizations that gives out information on deregulated utilities.

The energy plan also explained why one energy source alone, including alternative energy suppliers, wouldn’t benefit Michigan.

Weeks said Michigan has the second-oldest power plants in the U.S. — at 45 years and older. A decision has to be made on whether to retrofit existing buildings or build new ones, he said.

The regulation of carbon emissions is also part of the energy plan.

“New, cleaner plants should meet demand, be environmentally friendly, provide customer choice and be economically efficient,” said Weeks.

Three of the seven utility companies that proposed the plants have yet to file applications for them to be built. The proposed plant sites are near Manistee, Marquette, Rogers City, Alma and Midland. Consumers Energy also has a proposed plant in Bay City.

There are 19 coal-fired power plants in the state, according to Clean Energy Now.

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