Wednesday, February 24, 2010

No cap. No trade. Just $438 in your pocket

A report being released today shows Michigan families would save an average $438 annually in utility bills if strong energy efficiency measures are included in the energy bill being debated in the U.S. Senate:

That energy legislation includes the controversial cap-and-trade provision to try and help get a grip on global warming pollution. Whatever one thinks of cap-and-trade, energy efficiency would seem noncontroversial:  Money in our pockets. Less pollution. Reduced dependence on fossil fuels.

We're talking programs that help businesses and homeowners afford smart low-energy lighting systems, boilers and furnaces that use less fuel, weatherproof windows and insulation to keep the cold out (or the cold in, depending on the season), etc. etc.

You would think it would be a no-brainer for our Senators, Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin, and their colleagues.

You would think, anyway.

There are some great resources for homeowners available from my friends at Michigan Energy Options (see the links on the right hand side of their page):

And I had an interesting discussion with an energetic fellow from Ann Arbor who's developed this interesting web site to show, among other things, how you stack up against other Michiganders in term of energy use. Just make sure you enter your address exactly as it's shown to get started:


Monday, February 22, 2010

I CAN'T HEAR YOU: Climate skeptics find their own scientist too inconvenient to acknowledge

Conservative columnist George Will and a horde of climate change skeptics in the blogosphere have weighed in gleefully in recent days regarding climate scientist Phil Jones’ “admission” that there has been no statistically significant global warming since 1995. The argument popped up last week on the RightMichigan blog. It’s a variation on a common argument that typically uses 1998 as the year that global temperatures supposedly stopped going up.

So I did something a little outrageous, and actually read the interview where Jones made the statement.

There, we learn that “statistically significant” for scientists means at a “95 percent confidence level.” We also learn that the global temperature rise during the period in question was very close to that 95 percent confidence level, with a trend of 0.12C temperature rise per decade. That’s LOT different from saying there was no temperature rise.

But wait, there’s more!

Dr. Patrick Michaels is a climatologist in the employ of the free-market-is-the-answer-to-everything Cato Institute. He is one of the climate skeptics’ poster boys. A credentialed climatologist who is regularly trotted out to defend the status quo.

I talked with Dr. Michaels in January at a Detroit News-sponsored climate debate during the Auto Show in Detroit. He wore lime green tennis shoes with his coat and tie. But I digress.

At the Detroit debate, Dr. Michaels agreed that the planet is warming, and that manmade emissions have something to do with it. He also said the old argument that global warming stopped in 1998 is scientifically invalid and should be tossed on the scrap heap of discredited arguments. 

It was a fascinating statement that, not surprisingly, the Detroit News did not see fit to include in the edited video clips of the debate they posted online.

But it turns out that Michaels said essentially the same thing to a gathering of right-wing Heritage Foundation folks in 2008. He said the data do not back up the “no warming since 1998” contention, and warned the audience that using the argument erodes their credibility. “Make an argument that you can get killed on, and you can kill us all,” he lectured them. 

You can listen to his explanation and admonishment here, starting at about the 1:20 mark

It is a bizarre and pathetic commentary when climate skeptics begin finding that even the truths of their own heroes are too inconvenient to acknowledge.


Friday, February 19, 2010

NYT says enviros cooling on Obama; for Michigan and Gov. Granholm, it's deja vu

The New York Times had a piece yesterday about growing dissatisfaction with President Obama among environmental advocates.

Among the reasons: Backing off on a carbon cap; enthusiastic support for so-called clean coal (an Orwellian moniker invented by the industry); new loan guarantees to push nuclear power forward, more offshore drilling and – I might add although I didn’t see it in the Times story – his refusal to slam the door on Asian Carp by closing the locks at Chicago.

The reactions are striking in the similarity to Michigan environmentalists’ reactions to Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Like Obama, she replaced an administration widely seen as hostile toward environmentalists and indifferent at best toward our natural resources. She, too, campaigned on strong and progressive environmental promises. And she, too, was the target of criticism when her results didn’t match her rhetoric.

Unmet promises are part and parcel of the job – political realities temper the grandest ambitions. But they also can be the result of a lack of conviction, lack of aggressiveness, or a lack of strategy.

I’m willing to give a President only 13 months into his tenure the benefit of the doubt.

But he loses me a little bit more every time he uses the ridiculous term “clean coal.”


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Federal $$$ for high speed rail: Michigan is left at the station (or, what passenger rail and the Detroit Lions have in common)

Here’s a link to an Opinion piece in today’s Detroit Free Press from my colleague Tim Fischer

It explains that Michigan is losing hundred of millions of dollars in federal money that could make passenger railroad service better.

The reason? Michigan isn’t making any investment of its own. It’s kind of like a relative asking for help with his mortgage payment. You're not so keen on helping when you know he's been home watching Judge Judy all month instead of looking for a job.

Says Tim:
“While Wisconsin's governor was negotiating with (train manufacturer) Talgo, our governor was proposing a 25% cut in the state's passenger rail funding. While the Illinois Senate was approving that $400 million to expand passenger rail, our senators were looking to cut rail funding in half. While the Florida Legislature was endorsing its state's rail plan, we didn't have one. We still don't.”

On the Freep’s Opinion page you can see a counterpoint from someone at the Cato Institute

He says it’s a good thing we didn’t get any money to invest in rail, because then we’d have to spend our own money to maintain it. That’s easier to say when you don’t live in Michigan. It’s also easier to say when your institute is funded by interests (oil companies for one) who stand to lose if passenger rail ever actually becomes viable for everyday people in Michigan.

He also makes the argument that passenger rail service sucks, so why should we invest in it?
It’s a familiar line of reasoning around here: It’s the same approach that William Clay Ford Sr. has taken with the Detroit Lions. And it’s worked out so well for them.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Down with Big Gov't renewable energy subsidies! Let go nuclear instead.......uh, oops!

President Obama is seeking $8.3 billion in federal loan guarantees for new nuclear power plants planned in Georgia. The guarantees put taxpayers on the hook for the money, should the venture fail or run over budget, which is a pretty good possibility.

So, I'm expecting to see conservatives and free-market proponents come out in force against this subsidy with the same fervor they assail subsidies for solar power or wind energy.

But, I'm not holding my breath.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Asian Carp solution: More fishing!

Legislative hearings on the threat that Asian carp pose to the Great Lakes have been scheduled in Lansing.

The Frankenfish have devoured everything in their path on their way to Lake Michigan, now accounting for something like 90 percent of all biological life in the Illinois River.

Michigan and other states are trying to force a closure of the last locks standing between the carp and Lake Michigan So far, President Barack Obama’s administration has been tone deaf to the appeal.

But maybe none of this is necessary.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s reliable policy experts have unveiled a truly free market solution: “More fishing could help ensure that the non-native carp do not overcrowd the native fish of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers.”

You just can’t make this stuff up.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Michigan House Republicans bizarre coal plant assertion: Talk to me in 2022

Michigan’s House of Representatives Republican caucus released a “Task Force on Jobs” report this past week suggesting that building new coal-fired power plants will reduce ratepayer costs.

It’s great news.

Because if had been a defensible falsehood rather than an outrageously transparent one, it might have been convincing.

A good sized coal fired power plant requires ratepayers (not shareholders) to finance $3 billion in construction costs. It saddles our children and grandchildren with a cumulative $9 billion debt to pay for coal from other states (nothing like spending locally!) It creates untold expenses to care for those whose health is damaged by pollution. And it ignores the certainty that there will be a price on carbon emissions in the future.

Western Upper Peninsula customers of WE Energy saw just what happened to their rates last year as a result of new coal-fired capacity built on their behalf. Coal cost them a 33 percent rate hike
I’m not among those who believe that we can meet our energy demands without ever building a new coal plant. We likely will need some as a crutch to get us to a cleaner and smarter future that relies first on efficiency and second on renewable energy’s exciting new technologies.

But we don’t need those money sucking coal plant crutches yet. Especially not when our state’s own Public Service Commission staff concluded in September that Michigan won’t need a new coal plant for at least 13 years:
What’s needed now is a wholesale commitment to energy efficiency. Programs that help industry, commercial businesses and homeowners become more efficient are the only ones that truly reduce ratepayer costs. They also provide in-state jobs for builders, installers, and the many Michigan companies that manufacture products that help cut energy use.

Coupled with aggressive use of renewable energy source like wind and solar, efficiency can meet our energy needs until we need to make a decision about whether a dirty, expensive coal plant is a necessary evil.

Talk to me in 2012.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Michigan mining ballot initiative group pulls the plug on 2010

Organizers of a proposed ballot initiative to safeguard Michigan lakes and streams from dangerous mining pollutants have fallen woefully short of the funding they need to get on the ballot in 2010.

The MiWater Ballot Initiative Campaign announced Thursday that it will not try and get the issue on the ballot this year.

The group raised only $125,000. Observers suspect it will take multiple millions of dollars to have a chance against the deep-pocketed international mining companies that oppose it.

The ballot issue would have required more safeguards against the seepage of heavy metals and sulfuric acid from so-called “sulfide mining” proposed in the Upper Peninsula. This is a new type of mining in Michigan, much different and more dangerous than the old-fashioned copper mining and other endeavors the U.P. is used to

Mining in U.P. sulfide rock formations will create poisonous byproducts that could, and probably will, leach into the streams and underground water reservoirs that feed Lake Superior (pictured).

There has never been a sulfide mine that has not put contaminants in waterways

New laws passed in 2005 were supposed to address just this type of mining. But environmental groups in Michigan are near unanimous in their disappointment in the lax way the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Environmental has applied these laws to the first U.P. sulfide mining proposal.

That proposal, made by Kennecott Minerals, a subsidiary of London-based Rio Tinto is pending and the subject of legal objections by a coalition that includes Indian tribes, U.P. environmental groups, and the National Wildlife Federation. It would extract nickel and other metals from a deep deposit near Marquette.

The company’s description of the project is here:

The Kennecott project has hotly divided folks in the U.P., many of whom crave the jobs it would bring.

My employer, the Michigan Environmental Council (MEC), is typical of environmental groups in its position. MEC is not opposed to mining, per se, but believes this particular project has design flaws and inherent risks that are unacceptable.

If it’s eventually approved, the jobs and the businesses that depend on the mine will evaporate in 15 years when the mine is played out. The profits will go to the London headquarters of Rio Tinto.

That’s a boom-and-bust cycle of unsustainable economic development at best. At worst, it leaves future generations with poisoned streams, a degraded Lake Superior, and a smattering of shuttered businesses and ghost towns that were built on a mirage.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Power plants recalled for safety defects?

A massive, noisy, hugely publicized recall is underway after Toyota vehicles have been suspected in up to 19 crash deaths and perhaps dozens of preventable injuries during the past decade.

Imagine the outrage if the number of preventable deaths had been 22,000 instead of 19?

That’s how many early deaths are caused annually from coal-fired power plant pollution according to this study:

Toyota is replacing flawed brake pedals at a phenomenal rate. They know that it will take a long time to rebuild the trust of a shaken public.

Isn’t it time that the public begin demanding the same accountability from energy producers?

Here’s a start:


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Brewing coffee for three mornings: 8 cents. Tracking energy use like a geek: Priceless

The doohickey plugged into the outlet here is a Kill-a-Watt meter, which tracks how much power appliances draw and how much they use over time.

It’s a fascinating little device that visually illustrates where your energy-hogging devices are. Ours cost about $30, and you can read about them here:

Kill-a-Watt has no ideology.  Democrats, Republicans, dirty tree huggers, free-market wackos, Tea Party dullards, crybaby liberals …… they all share a love of saving money.

This week, it told us our coffee pot used 0.93 kilowatt hours (kWh) of juice during the 66 hours its been monitoring the pot (three brewing cycles, I think).

That’s quite a bargain, in no small part because electric bills don’t include many costs passed along to us elsewhere. Medical care for people made ill by pollution from electricity generating coal power plants, for example. Or cleaning up the environmental damage caused by coal mining.

But I digress.

Kill-o-Watt has made some surprising discoveries. The heating coils on the roof that keep ice dams from forming in the gutters after heavy snows draw 373 watts….constantly! The small clock on the front of the coffee pot draws only 1 watt. Takes 42 days for that clock to draw a single kWh.

One big shocker was that the box for our cable television/DVR draws 40 watts on standby! That’s equivalent to a 40-watt light bulb left on permanently. My math says we can save $10 or $15 each year by turning the cable box off at night, which I do. Unless, of course, it needs to stay on to tape a 3 a.m. classic like “Roadhouse” or “Red Dawn.”


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Electric customers: 86 million, Consumers Energy: 0 Thank you MEC

From today's Jackson Citizen-Patriot:

"State regulators have ordered Consumers Energy to repay its electric customers about $86 million after finding the utility improperly kept the money as general revenue......James Clift, policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council, which was one of several groups involved in the case against Consumers, said they had been raising the issue with the MPSC for eight years. Clift said the way Consumers was handling the money was a 'financial gimmick.' 'It's been a long time coming' Clift said.",1607,7-159-16400_17280-231260--,00.html

Monday, February 8, 2010

Mike Cox: Crackpot hippie?

Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox has issued an analysis disputing Illinois’ claim that closing Chicago shipping canal locks to keep Asian Carp out of Lake Michigan would unleash economic Armageddon. Read it here:

Five years ago, Grand Valley State University researchers came to a strikingly similar conclusion regarding closing the other end of the Great Lakes to keep ocean-going vessels from spewing invasive species. Read it here:

Cox says keeping the carp out would cost $70 million annually to protect a $7 billion annual sport fishing industry. GVSU said keeping the ocean ships out would cost $55 million to protect the same industry.

In 2005, those who publically called for closing the lakes to ocean ships were deemed crackpot, hippie wackos bent on destroying the economy. Government researchers who spoke out were muzzled and at least one was forced out of a job. No significant politician took up the cause.

But today those calling publically for closing the Chicago shipping locks include a bipartisan roster of lawmakers. Even WJR Radio talk show host Frank Beckmann and the Detroit News editorial board – neither of which had previously seen an environmental issue they didn’t consider a socialist plot to destroy America – are on board.

What’s the difference?

For one, the ugly, creepy, leaping Asian Carp is a visible and tangible villain that has fueled the public’s ire like no other.

Secondly, the leadership of Cox, a Republican and candidate for governor, has made it OK for other Republicans and conservatives to call for closing the Chicago shipping locks.

A cynic would say it is a naked populist ploy to capitalize on public outrage in an election year.

An optimist would say that maybe, just maybe, politicians of all stripes will recognize the power that Great Lakes protection has to mobilize Michigan citizens and voters.


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Out of a job yet? Keep buying Argentinian honey

The grocery store has several brands of honey. Some from Canada, some from Argentina.

I buy honey from my friend Tim, who keeps bees near Mason, MI. But even before I met Tim’s industrious bees (who made the honey in the photo) I made it a point to buy only honey with a label affirming it was produced in Michigan.

Same with apples, potatoes, maple syrup, cherries, tortilla chips, and myriad other products that our neighbors either grow or manufacture here in Michigan.

These products generally use less polluting fossil fuel to get to your grocery cart because they originated nearby. They typically use fewer preservatives because they don’t need to sit on a truck or in a ship’s hold for days on end. And they retain more of their vitamins, minerals and antioxidants because they’re fresher.

Plus, they help Michigan’s economy.

If you live near the Motor City, you can't avoid the bumper stickers on American-made pickup trucks that say “Out of a job yet? Keep buying foreign.” The same holds true for all the rest of Michigan's products.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Yes and No aren't complete answers to question of wind turbines in Lake Michigan

Congressman Pete Hoeskstra, R-Holland, has launched on online “survey” to gauge public support or opposition to Scandia Wind Offshore’s plans to construct a wind farm in Lake Michigan offshore from the Pentwater/Ludington shoreline.

The problem with Rep. Hoekstra’s survey is not that it has no statistical validity – it’s essentially a tool to let his constituents vent, and doesn’t purport to be anything more.

The problem is that there are nine potential selections we can choose, ranging from “There are no circumstances that can convince me to accept wind turbines in Lake Michigan” to “I would accept the proposal because we must move toward renewable energy at all costs”

Yet each of the nine answers naively presupposes that the choice is simply “yes” or “no.” The survey does not acknowledge that, if the turbines are not built, the electricity needs to come from somewhere else.

A more honest survey would ask Rep. Hoekstra’s constituents which energy option they favor. If not wind turbines, would they rather see a new coal-burning power plant in town? Or a nuclear facility on the shore of the lake? Or an aggressive energy efficiency program added their current utility bill to make the additional electricity use unnecessary.

As Michigan moves to build a new clean energy economy, there will be dozens more local discussions like the ones occurring on the Lake Michigan shoreline right now. Wind turbines offshore will surely be considered an eyesore to some. That’s no different from other public utilities. Overhead power lines, interstate highways and railroad crossings are not pretty, but we accept them as a tradeoff for the public service they provide.

Robust discussions on the pros and cons of each of our energy options are worth having. But let’s not let Rep. Hoekstra imply that “Just Say No” is an effective energy policy.