Climate change threatens Michigan's fruit belt, energy equity advocates win case

CO2 2022/2021 418.23 ppm / 416.07 ppm

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Public comment: Michiganders had a chance to weigh in on the state’s draft climate plan last week. Environmental advocates took the opportunity to push for cutting emissions faster and emphasize issues like public transportation and retrofitting older homes to be more energy-efficient. “Specifically, the plan should more rapidly increase our use of clean, renewable energy and set a goal for 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2035,” said Kate Madigan, director of nonprofit Michigan Climate Action Network. The current plan would have the state source half its energy from renewables by 2030 and end coal-fired generation by 2035, with a goal to achieve “carbon neutrality” by 2050. Madigan argued that the state should only replace fossil fuels with renewable energy instead of replacing coal with methane gas to serve as “bridge fuel.” Nuclear energy also emerged as a significant point of contention, with pro-nuclear commenters arguing that decreasing nuclear generation would increase the reliance on fossil fuels. Others called this a “false solution” that threatens the region with disasters like the 2011 meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan and produces difficult-to-store waste. (MLive, Bridge)

Renewable benefits: Environmental advocates also say a recent report by Greenlink Analytics helps make a case for accelerating Michigan’s transition away from fossil fuels. The report compares the current state-approved energy plans for Michigan utilities with 17 gigawatts of additional clean energy by 2050 and an end to all methane gas generation. The report says this scenario would produce $1,600 in annual energy savings for the average household by 2035 and create 50% more jobs in the energy sector. Researchers also predict it would decrease the number of asthma cases in the state by 6,300 by 2050. (MLive)

Energy equity: DTE Energy will add $40 million to its energy efficiency program for income-qualified customers, part of a settlement between the utility, the Sierra Club, and other parties including the Ecology Center, Earth Justice, and the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Michigan has one of the highest energy burdens in the country, and most of that impact is in Detroit’s majority Black income-qualified communities,” said Mike Berkowitz, the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign Senior Representative in Michigan. The settlement will target areas that have been historically underserved for energy efficiency upgrades. "We're hoping that it becomes a model so that you're prioritizing the areas where there's the greatest need and the greatest vulnerability," said Elena Saxonhouse, managing attorney of Sierra Club's Environmental Law Program. (Utility Dive)

Whither the fruit belt? Lake Michigan has been a source of protection for west Michigan’s fruit belt, which produces 70% of the country’s tart cherries along with large quantities of apples. Cold air blowing off the lake in spring keeps trees dormant and warm winds in fall stave off an early frost. But climate change is altering this dynamic. "My dad remembers one major crop failure in his young life, in the 1960s or so," said John McAvoy, a vice president at King Orchards in Antrim County. "But in the last 20 years, we've had a crop failure in 2002, 2012, 2020 and 2021." Reduced ice cover and a warming lake can cause fruit trees to flower early, only to lose their blossoms–and any future fruit–in a late frost. Although orchardists use wind turbines and irrigation to protect trees against a late frost, these strategies are expensive and not always successful. King Orchards is responding to the problem by diversifying their production into strawberries, asparagus, apricots, peaches and other crops. (Freep)

See @keithmatheny's post on Twitter.

Code talk: Builders and environmentalists are set to face off this year as state officials consider adopting a more energy-efficient home building code. “For action on climate change and for energy efficiency, it’s one of the only administrative tools we have to ensure that homes and buildings are efficient,” said Charlotte Jameson, chief policy officer for the Michigan Environmental Council. Yet, Bob Filka, CEO of the Home Builders Association of Michigan, says that more energy-efficient codes could hurt the market by driving up prices at a time when housing costs are already increasing dramatically. The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs is considering adopting standards set by the International Energy Conservation Code requiring more insulation in ceilings and basements, rigid foam insulation for exterior walls, and tighter seals for ceilings and windows among other changes. The U.S. Department of Energy says the new standards would create energy savings of 11% compared to the existing code and save the average Michigan household $327 annually on utility bills. (Bridge)

Stranded pipeline? In the Straits of Magazine, a group opposing Enbridge’s planned tunnel for its Line 5 pipeline is arguing that the company’s own paperwork shows the project will become a “stranded asset” by 2041. Advocacy group Oil and Water Don’t Mix says the company’s depreciation study–which shows the pipeline remaining viable for only a few decades–contradicts their agreement with Michigan officials to operate it for 99 years. The company’s calculus considers climate change policies and future regulations, which could shorten the cost recovery period. Enbridge spokesperson Ryan Duffy says the study was intended to calculate the “cost of service toll,” not predict the pipeline's lifespan. (MLive)


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