Cherryland Electric Cooperative’s Tony Anderson (May 5 forum) says no single energy source can protect our environment and pocketbooks; our “energy plate’s” main course must be coal, natural gas, or nuclear, with energy efficiency and renewables sprinkled on top.
His recipe is upside down; sticking with it will cook our goose. In fact, the goose is in the oven: Michigan’s energy recipe is 49 percent coal, 25 percent nuclear power, and 20 percent gas, with just 5 percent renewables (headed for 10 percent, thanks to state law) and 1 percent efficiency per year sprinkled on top. Those main ingredients have problems.
Coal’s costs far outweigh its benefits. Prices are high because fuel transportation and mining costs are growing very expensive. And importing it annually exports $1.2 billion to coal states.
Pollution from Michigan’s nine oldest coal plants annually cost us $1.5 billion in health care. Also their mercury emissions make some fish in every lake and river dangerous dining. Coal’s high carbon emissions cause climate disruption, which is linked to historically low Great Lakes water levels and destruction of cherry and apple crops.
Natural gas is cleaner than coal, with half the carbon, but fracking goes far beyond traditional extraction. It drills deeper vertically and farther horizontally, permanently poisons 100 times more fresh water, and injects toxic stews into the ground. There were 170 contaminated water sites, including well water, in the northern Michigan area reported in 2009. There have been at least 10 accidental and deliberate fracking fluid spills and oil and gas accidents since 2010 in our immediate area. Some heavily fracked states have endured unsafe drinking water, higher toxic air pollution levels, and soil and water contamination.
Nuclear ties up huge financial and natural resources, and poses grave safety and health problems in any serious accident. South Haven’s Palisades plant reported seven leaks since 2012; six caused shutdowns.
Renewables cannot be just sprinkles on top. New wind power is far cheaper than new coal, is just as reliable, pollutes nothing, and keeps more hard-earned dollars cycling through Michigan’s economy rather than headed to Wyoming.
Solar power prices are half what they were a few years ago; energy efficiency measures are the cheapest form of power; Gov. Rick Snyder’s renewables and efficiency reports find room for big servings of both — far healthier fare with the same tab.
We don’t have to consume dirty energy that hampers our health, economy, and Great Lakes. Our state’s elected leaders should increase Michigan’s renewable energy standard and prod those monopolies to foster new, clean-energy developments that replace lost tax revenues and produce new jobs.
This is no fantasy: Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana are following a regional energy plan that uses wind power and efficiency to move almost entirely away from fossil fuels and hydroelectricity by 2030.
Renewables and efficiency must be our main course. For dessert, we’ll enjoy strong economic and public health, plenty of jobs, and national leadership in the unstoppable, global, clean-energy economy.
About the author: Rebecca Estelle-Skeels is chair of the Michigan Chapter of the Sierra Club’s Clearwater Conservation Committee. which covers Kalkaska, Antrim, Otsego, Crawford, Missaukee and Roscommon Counties.