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Original article URL: http://bridgemi.com/2016/12/conservative-energy-forum-on-states-electricity-not-many-sparks/

Guest commentary

Conservative Energy Forum on state’s electricity: Not many sparks

Larry Ward is executive director of the Michigan Conservative Energy Forum in Lansing.

Larry Ward is executive director of the Michigan Conservative Energy Forum in Lansing.

Last month, the Michigan Conservative Energy Forum (MCEF) released its inaugural Electricity Rate Report Card, which showed that Michigan ratepayers face the highest electricity costs in the Midwest. In our ongoing effort to maintain accountability of Michigan’s electric utility companies, we are now releasing the second installment – our Reliability and Natural Resources Report Card.

Reliability

Electricity reliability is crucial for all energy users in Michigan and a key component of Gov. Snyder’s energy priorities. The best way to measure electricity reliability is the average number of minutes each electricity customer goes without power during an outage.

The Energy Information Administration of the U.S. Department of Energy began collecting annual outage data from utilities and publishing this information in 2013. The most recent complete reliability data, from calendar year 2014, shows Michigan is simply missing the mark when it comes to reliability.

Michigan has the worst power outage time per customer in the Midwest and the fifth-worst in the nation. This means on average, Michigan electricity ratepayers lose power longer than customers in every other Midwest state.

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Click to enlarge.

Much of the debate over reliability has focused on resource adequacy, or the amount of power generation needed to meet customers’ peak demand. However, MCEF contends it is wrong to view reliability through the lens of resource adequacy given that in 2014 loss of electricity because of problems related to resource adequacy accounted for only about 1 percent of outage minutes in Michigan. Thus an overwhelming majority of regular power outages are not caused by insufficient electricity generation, but rather by breakdowns in the electricity delivery system.

When it comes to reliability, it is clear that Michigan utility companies are falling short. And, considering the rates we pay, our utility companies owe it to ratepayers to improve infrastructure to keep the lights on.

Conservation of natural resources

We must protect our natural resources, producing and using energy in ways that have the minimum negative impact on our air, land, and water quality. Electric utilities are required to report emissions of the most dangerous pollutants from each power plant. As with reliability information, the most recent emissions data available from the EIA is for calendar year 2014.

The best way to measure emissions is the amount of pollution compared to the amount of power generated. For our analysis we used tons of pollution per million kWh of electricity generated.

In terms of carbon dioxide emissions, a key contributor to pollution that causes negative health effects, Michigan ranked ninth-worst in the Midwest and 19th-worst in the nation. For sulfur dioxide emissions, another key pollutant that has been linked to higher rates of asthma, cardiopulmonary diseases, and acid rain, Michigan ranked fourth-worst in the Midwest and fifth-worst in the nation.

Pollution threatens our Great Lakes, rivers and streams, in turn threatening Michigan’s proud traditions of fishing, hunting, boating and enjoying the outdoors. Many states are reducing pollution by incorporating more clean energy sources into their energy portfolios.

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Click to enlarge.

In 2015, Michigan ranked 5th lowest in the Midwest in terms of the percentage of power generation from renewable sources, and 20th lowest in the nation.

Investing in clean, renewable energy can position Michigan as an energy leader, conserving our finite natural resources and improving reliability. Take Michigan’s 2008 renewable energy standard (RES) for example, which helped to create jobs, drive investment in our state, and protect our natural resources.

Building on this success, part of the energy legislation now being considered by the House – a five percent increase to our RES by 2021 – was sponsored by Sen. Dale Zorn, R-Monroe, and has already been approved with bipartisan support by the GOP-led state Senate.

The state House can help Michigan meet Gov. Snyder’s goals of conservation and reliable, affordable energy by voting to increase our renewable energy standard. As the country moves toward a 21st century clean energy economy, MCEF urges our lawmakers to place ratepayers above guaranteed utility profits, and keep reliability and conservation in mind as they consider the current energy bills before them.

MCEF will continue to provide these performance rate cards, and we are committed to helping Michigan be a leader in our nation’s clean energy transition.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan.

10 comments from Bridge readers.Add mine!

  1. Kevin Grand

    …Thus an overwhelming majority of regular power outages are not caused by insufficient electricity generation, but rather by breakdowns in the electricity delivery system.”

    When the bulk of your distribution system is above ground, is anyone really surprised by disruptions directly caused by the elements (i.e. snow & ice) or indirectly from the same (i.e. high winds causing trees and branches to fall into lines)?

    Has anyone else noticed that the same problems cannot be said of other utilities like water and natural gas?

    We keep hearing about how much the utilities spend maintaining and upgrading their system.

    How difficult would it really be to start to moving the system underground so that it would no longer be affected by the elements?

    1. David

      And underground utilities would also beautify our communities and roadways
      Unfortunately, I have been told by municipalities and the utility companies that installing underground utilities cost double overhead line installs

    2. Barry Visel

      Might want to check out Florida. They rebuild overhead after hurricanes because even then it simply costs too much to go underground.

      1. Kevin Grand

        I’ve heard that argument made before.

        But when I contrast that with the cost of sending out crews to repair, re-repair, re-re-repair, re-re-re-repair (sense a pattern forming) the same distribution lines, are there really any savings to be had when compared to just burying the lines and not having to worry about it?

        1. Barry Visel

          Yes…that’s why Florida and others don’t do it.

          1. Kevin Grand

            I’m leaning towards insuring job security, namely theirs.

            It’s kind of like the road situation here in Michigan.

            Why build something that lasts for over 50 years (like the Davidson Freeway), when you can build something that doesn’t last anywhere nearly as long (say I-696).

            “Planned obsolesce” does have an advantage in this case.

    3. Anna

      Kevin, it wouldn’t be difficult to move our electrical distribution, telephone, and cable broadband systems underground. What it would be is extremely expensive, even using newer directional drilling technology that has improved significantly thanks to fracking. Installing a power line underground costs between 5 and 10 times as much as an above-ground line does, even if you use existing easements/rights of way. If we want to improve power reliability less expensively, we should trim more trees more often and relocate a few poles and cable lines away from high-accident intersections.

  2. Barry Visel

    ‘Average minutes per outage’ is one indicator. But don’t we need to know how many outages/year? And don’t we need to average over time to account for unusual circumstances?

    If less then 1% of outages are caused by generation issues, that sounds like a very positive statement about our generation base. Let’s make sure we don’t screw that up.

    I’m 69 years old. I don’t think our air and water has ever been cleaner in my lifetime. When people advocate for even more requirements my first question is, what are the scientifically documented incremental cost benefits. And, no, I don’t believe zero impact is achievable, so reasonableness has to be factored in.

    Finally, when utility profits are looked at as bad, I start worrying about my IRA (two sides to each story).

  3. Ken Hobson

    Outage minutes per year is a more accurate measure of reliability that minutes per outage.

    Placing electric circuits underground does not necessarily result in more reliability. Underground circuits have vulnerabilities that overhead lines do not have. The repair of underground outages can take longer to repair than overhead line outages.

    An estimate was made many years ago that it would cost more to place all of the nations’ electrical lines generation ithan to place all of the railroads underground.

    Legislation requiring utilities to curtail reliable coal and nuclear generation and depend more on less reliable and intermittent solar and wind generation will reduce overall generation reliability.

    I suggest that the Bridge research how much of our solar and wind generation is foreign owned.

  4. Ken Hobson

    Correction:

    Outage minutes per year is a more accurate measure of reliability that minutes per outage.

    Placing electric circuits underground does not necessarily result in more reliability. Underground circuits have vulnerabilities that overhead lines do not have. The repair of underground outages can take longer to repair than overhead line outages.

    An estimate was made many years ago that it would cost more to place all of the nations’ electrical lines underground than to place all of the railroads underground.

    Legislation requiring utilities to curtail reliable coal and nuclear generation and depend more on less:
    reliable and intermittent solar and wind generation will reduce overall generation reliability.

    I suggest that the Bridge research how much of our solar and wind generation is foreign owned.

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