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Proposals for Actions by the Lansing Board of Water and Light from the Lansing Environmental Action Team

At a minimum, we request that the City and BWL reconsider their plans for large-scale, centrally located $500 million natural gas plants and work to implement greenhouse gas reduction strategies that are already fully cost-effective now. Estimates show that more than one-third and perhaps close to half of all of Michigan’s greenhouse gas emissions could be avoided at this time by applying current cost-effective technologies that either reduce energy waste, supply energy using renewable resources, or both.

 

(1) Open the bidding process to all sources to fill electricity generation needs, as opposed to only asking for bids for a central large natural-gas facility.

The health and environmental costs, as well as financial costs, of purchasing and burning natural gas for the next thirty years strongly need to be considered. Fracking for natural gas releases highly-polluting methane, and frequently contaminates water supplies. Natural gas prices are highly unstable and bound to rise.

Utility-scale solar, wind, hydro-electric, etc. are dropping rapidly in price, and have no ongoing fuel costs to consider. For examples of what’s happening in other states, Arizona just implemented a moratorium on new large natural gas plants. In Colorado, bids for renewable power projects, are lower than the cost of maintaining existing coal plants.

(2) Open the bidding process to all sources for meeting peak time energy needs, to reach the lowest total system cost.

Natural gas “peaker plants,” such as proposed by BWL, are rapidly becoming less desirable. Some utilities are canceling plans for these in favor of “demand response” programs, battery and thermal storage, and solar or wind generation. “Demand response” means working with customers to reduce their electricity use at peak times of the day; there are numerous programs in operation around the country. BWL should begin working immediately to allow third parties to implement DR programming for all interested customers.

(3) Instead of a single, large natural-gas plant, build multiple smaller, modular units, and build them only as needed.

Multiple small plants can be built either at the same location, or at multiple locations throughout the service area, where as much as possible of the waste-heat generated could be put to valuable use.  Not sinking all monies into one large plant leaves flexibility to adopt new technologies as they become available. The seven years before the Erickson plant is to be decommissioned leaves plenty of time to consider alternatives.

(4) Make and share a “capacity hosting map” of the BWL service territory.

Such mapping would let energy project developers know where to focus their attention to best address utility-grid congestion and minimize system costs.

 

(5) Work with local groups to map out preferred areas for developing new energy technologies, including solar, wind, hydro, combined-heat-and-power, biomass, batteries, thermal storage, etc. 

For one example, installing solar on schools or other buildings with large roof areas that are either flat or generally south-facing is proving to be a popular cost saver. Solar panels on schools in Flushing, Michigan are expected to save $45,000 per year.

 

(6) Work with communities and local governments to identify and map all critical-use facilities and implement a “public purpose microgrid” development program.

Critical-use facilities include hospitals, grocery stores, schools, nursing homes, etc.  Setting up small decentralized microgrids at these locations can reduce transmission losses and protect against and provide resilience in the face of all kinds of natural disasters, accidents, and even cyber or physical attacks.

(7) Create one Integrated Resource Plan that combines planning for electric, water, waste water, and storm/surface water in cooperation with local units of government.

This is vitally important since so much electricity is used to meet our needs for water, and so much water is used when generating electricity. Preliminary indications from this kind of fully integrated planning elsewhere are proving that each utility can adjust its plans in ways that help the others reduce the total costs of the multiple systems. Grand Rapids represents one example.

(8) Exceed the state minimum standard for 1% annual growth in electric energy efficiency.

Increasing efficiency should be a top priority, as it is the cheapest and least polluting way of filling current and future energy needs. The state minimum standard for 1% annual growth in electric energy efficiency should be a minimum, not a maximum.  BWL has already shown that it can exceed the 1% standard within the budget constraints set by Michigan law.  Other areas have achieved more than twice that level for a decade or two.  BWL should work diligently and expediently, to enable markets to leverage as much non-ratepayer funding as possible, to achieve as much energy efficiency as practical.  

(9) Promote and publicize the “Michigan Saves” Program. Consider using their services to implement on-bill financing.

Programs like Michigan Saves provide customers with low-cost financing and project quality assurance to make upgrades that lead to greater efficiency, less need for electricity, heating fuel and water bills, and therefore lower utility bills. Customers then pay back those loans over time, while at the same time their utility bills are lower, so they regularly spend less each month than before. See the Holland Energy Fund. Financing methods such as this, especially if customers can make payments through their BWL bills (on-bill financing), will provide all BWL customers the opportunity to take advantage of cost-effective efficiency improvements, in most cases without using any more ratepayer funding.

(10) Work with Lansing’s city council and mayor toward meeting their 2017 goal of developing and implementing a Sustainability and Climate Action Plan to meet the Paris Accords.

Worldwide scientific organizations are unanimous that human activity is causing climate change. If we don’t act now, the planet will largely be uninhabitable in 100 years. The recent Paris Accords laid out a minimal, but acceptable, set of goals. Even if the US establishes proposals to slash emissions, unlikely in today’s political climate, it is still likely to overshoot its 2025 target by nearly a billion tons of greenhouse gases.

All countries, cities, businesses and individuals must do their part. The BWL and the city of Lansing are not exempt from the urgent requirement to stop emitting greenhouse gases.  The above proposals would be a reasonable start for Lansing in this direction.