From the Headlines – May 3 – 7, 2021

Heatwaves and blackouts: A new study examines the risk for concurrent blackouts and heatwaves in Detroit, Phoenix, and Atlanta, finding that power failures have increased by more than 60% since 2015. “A widespread blackout during an intense heatwave may be the deadliest climate-related event we can imagine,” said Brian Stone Jr., a professor at the School of City & Regional Planning at Georgia Institute of Technology and the study’s lead author. Stone added that such a scenario was “increasingly likely.” Climate change is making heatwaves, which are already the country’s most deadly severe weather event killing an estimated 12,000 Americans each year, even worse. The study found that Detroit, Phoenix, and Atlanta have only enough cooling centers to accommodate between 1-2% of their population. None of these cities require these facilities to have backup power. (New York Times)

Truck noise: study from the University of Michigan found that noise from truck traffic in Southwest Detroit exceeded guidelines levels and negatively impacted sleep health and cognitive performance. “What was particularly surprising to us was that residential streets, in many cases, had a constant flow of heavy-duty diesel vehicles as well. And this is along parks and along areas which we wouldn’t expect these trucks to be,” said Stuart Batterman, a University of Michigan professor of environmental health science. Construction on the Gordie Howe Bridge is compounding the problem by rerouting truck traffic through residential neighborhoods and increasing residents’ exposure to diesel exhaust and dust. (WDIV)

Monster fish: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s annual survey of the Detroit River’s lake sturgeon population produced a larger than average specimen this year. “All of the sudden, this gray and white shadow came to the surface, and for about 5 to 8 minutes, we struggled to try to get the fish into the net,” scientist Paige Wigren said. It took the whole crew to get the fish onto the boat’s deck, at which point the scientists realized they had made a truly remarkable catch. Nearly 7 feet long and weighing 240 pounds, the fish is one of the largest lake sturgeon ever recorded. Scientists estimate that the fish is more than 100 years old, predating the Ambassador Bridge. (WDET, MLive)

Here they come: If your dog has begun to salivate uncontrollably, it may be on account of the trillions of cicadas due to emerge after 17 years underground —  part of the very cool-sounding “Brood X.”  Here are some quick facts on this what is the “2 Fast 2 Furious” of insects:The cicadas will arrive sometime in late May and last until mid-July.You may not get the full effect unless you live near densely forested areas with older deciduous trees. Unfortunately, much of Michigan was largely deforested in the 19th century, especially after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, when wood was needed to rebuild the city. Fewer trees have meant smaller cicada populations in some areas.Waterloo Recreation Area near Chelsea may be the best semi-local spot to observe large numbers of bugs.And they get LOUD. The mating calls made by the male cicadas can reach 80 to 100 decibels, a volume that is somewhere between lawnmower and motorcycle. Cicadas don’t bite or eat garden plants, although the females will cut holes into small branches to lay their eggs. Also, animals love these things. Dogs, cats, birds, raccoons, skunks, opossums, porcupines, foxes, snakes, and frogs will all feast on the protein-rich insects. Scientists believe cicadas emerge simultaneously so that a few are left over to lay eggs and get the party started in another 17 years. (Freep, AP)

It’s getting real: As the May 12 deadline looms for Canadian company Enbridge to suspend operations of its Line 5 pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac, cross-border recriminations have increased in frequency and intensity. Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley said that thousands of jobs are at risk and that he has written Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer more letters “than Saint Paul wrote to the Corinthians.”  And Joe Comartin, Consul General of Canada in Detroit, said the U.S. is “highly unlikely” to order the shutdown. Although Whitmer ordered the shutdown, Comartin said a confirmatory order would be required by a state or federal judge. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and several cabinet ministers have been lobbying to keep the pipeline open. Canadian officials are also preparing to invoke the 1977 Transit Pipelines Treaty; an obscure agreement intended to stop either the U.S. or Canada from impeding the flow of petroleum unless there is an operating emergency or natural disaster. (Washington Post, National Post)

Caps off: DTE Energy and Consumers announced Tuesday that they supported lifting the lid on rooftop solar, which set a ceiling on how much electrical energy utilities are required to buy back from home solar producers to 1% of the average peak load. Consumers had voluntarily raised its cap to 2%. The utilities said they want to negotiate the increase in the solar cap, but House Bill 4236 proposes eliminating it. “It is a backstop for them,” Charlotte Jameson, director of legislative affairs at the Michigan Environmental Council, said of the utilities’ push to keep the cap. “If they hit the cap in their service territory, they can refuse to connect people to the grid. Essentially, that is shutting down the rooftop solar market in a utility service territory.” The utilities say that solar customers pay less than their fair share of grid costs, effectively raising prices for other customers. But clean energy groups argue the Michigan Public Service Commission addressed this issue when they instituted a “cost-of-service” tariff for distributed generation in 2016. (MLive)

It’s a gas: But don’t get too worried about Michigan’s utilities. Another huge windfall could come their way soon with $250 million that the Michigan Legislature is considering allocating for building out natural gas infrastructure. This includes money for studying biogas or “sustainable natural gas,” as the industry likes to call it. The bill seems designed to expand gas infrastructure in the Upper Peninsula, where the scheduled shutdown of Line 5 could affect 15% of the region’s homes primarily heated with propane. Some argue the bill will essentially be moving COVID relief money into natural gas by creating “a natural gas expansion fund” for utilities to draw on out of the state’s general fund. This pot of money received a $2.5 billion infusion in federal COVID-relief this year. (The Counter, Midwest Energy News)

Tree migration: On a property just south of the Straits of Mackinac, Noah Jansen, a conservationist for the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, is working to cultivate species from further south like shagbark hickory, silver maple, black walnut, sassafras, and swamp white oak, which might be able to withstand a warming climate. “I don’t know which of these species are going to thrive in 50 or 100 years,” said Jansen. “So we cast the net broad and try to have something there that creates habitat for wildlife, sources of cultural significance for tribal members and areas to hunt and gather.” Workers on the property are also planting northern species like paper birch and white cedar, using seeds from trees at the southern part of their range. They hope these trees might be more adaptable to warmer conditions, thus extending their survivability in a changing climate. Forestry experts fear northern forests will decline before southern species can take their place since trees migrate slowly by seed. Although Jansen doesn’t know if his project will work, he said, “we can’t just not do something.” (Bridge)


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