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Trash gas: Michigan energy regulators will be studying the potential to use gas from landfills, human and animal waste and other sources for power generation. The Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) and industry sources refer to this as “renewable natural gas”, while others call it “trash gas”. Environmental advocates say that burning this gas for energy could have some benefits because it’s cleaner than allowing it to escape into the atmosphere. “If there’s a farming operation CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) and they’re just off-gassing methane, it would be better to capture that and to use it in transportation or some other or heavy industry,” said Charlotte Jameson, chief policy officer for the Michigan Environmental Council. However, she added that burning materials to create gas would be “more problematic”. Others have argued that “renewable natural gas” is expensive, could only cover a small portion of energy needs and might also serve as an impediment to the electrification of housing. Utilities have resisted this last item, but a California study found that building electrification was likely the cheapest way to reduce emissions from housing. (MLive, Ars Technica, Vox)
Damage control: Detroit cultural institutions like the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra's Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center continue to deal with the fallout from June’s historic storms, which caused extensive damage and forced them to close for weeks. At the Wright, workers were able to save artifacts housed on the first floor, but the museum needs to repair its orientation theater and is considering installing a sump pump to deal with flooding going forward. Meanwhile, residents across the country are asking the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to overhaul the government’s flood insurance program. The petition calls for a ban on new housing developments in areas prone to flooding and more focus on elevating properties or moving residents away from areas with high flood risk. “Fill and build” construction–where soil is piled on flood-prone areas before housing is built–may be especially problematic because it could divert water onto neighboring properties. “We have developers building on wetland areas that can’t hold water anymore so it just flows off onto us,” said Amber Bismack, a petition signatory from Livingston County. (Detroit News, Guardian)
Power moves: Following the Ford Motor Company’s decision to locate two energy-intensive battery plants in Kentucky and Tennessee, DTE and Consumers received permission to furnish large, industrial customers with special rates. This could benefit companies like General Motors who are looking to build a new $160 million battery pack assembly line at their Lake Orion plant. So will you–the non-corporate energy customer–be paying more for electricity to save GM money? Dan Scripps, chair of the MPSC, says this is not the case. “Our rates need to be cost-of-service based within classes,” he said, “so that means that industrial (users) have to pay the cost of service for industrial customers, and residential customers have to pay the cost of service for residential customers.” However, John Freeman, executive director of the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association, questioned whether this was true, saying DTE and Consumers failed to provide sufficient data that costs wouldn’t increase for other customers. (Outlier, Detroit News, Bridge)
Sustainable neighborhoods: A pair of initiatives are attracting attention for their emphasis on sustainability and social justice. City officials are working to make Ann Arbor’s Bryant Neighborhood–where roughly 75% of residents are low-income and about 50% are people of color–the city’s first “carbon-neutral” neighborhood. Missy Stults, the city’s sustainability manager, says the city is looking to use public and private funds to install rooftop solar, upgrade homes to be more energy-efficient, and replace gas appliances with electric ones, among other measures. Nearby, a new development called Veridian at County Farm is developing 160 housing units that will be all-electric and powered by solar energy on a site where a third of the land will be in food production. Although home prices will be as high as $900,000, 50 of them will be for those making less than 60% of the area’s median income and a portion will be reserved for people experiencing homelessness, which could make it one of the country’s first net-zero, mixed-income communities. The number of net-zero housing units has grown significantly in recent years, but there were still only an estimated 27,965 of them in 2020. “These kinds of developments are a positive step forward,” said George Homsy, the director of the environmental studies program at Binghamton University, “but the system shouldn’t be set up in such a way that they are so rare. We need to set up systems at the local, state, and national level to make this the norm.”
Explaining things: West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin is blocking the Build Back Better legislation–which contains significant funding for responding to climate change–saying among other things that he “cannot explain” BBB to West Virginians. But it sounds like that may be a Joe Manchin problem. The United Mine Workers and West Virginia A.F.L.-CIO issued statements last month supporting the legislation. While support for BBB isn’t universal in these unions, the inclusion of funding for those suffering from black lung disease and money to transition workers to careers in renewable energy won the day. Manchin may have really been having a hard time explaining the legislation to the West Virginia Coal Association, who represents mine–owners and said the unions were “waving a white flag”. During this election cycle, Manchin has received more campaign donations from the coal, oil, and gas industries than any other senator. (WaPo, NY Times)
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