End of coal: Consumers Energy will stop using coal by 2025 and scale back its plans to purchase new methane gas facilities, according to terms of a proposed settlement. The utility had previously planned to purchase four gas plants but will now only buy one, concentrating instead on adding 8,000 megawatts of solar power and 550 megawatts of battery storage by 2040. Consumers also agreed to donate $5 million a year to help low-income customers. (MI Radio, MLive)
Pushing back on shutoffs: Following a story that showed DTE Energy had cut off service to customers for non-payment 208,000 times between April 2020 and December 2021, Detroit City Council called on the utility to suspend all gas and electricity shutoffs for one year. During the pandemic, the utility’s average monthly shutoffs per 100,000 customers were significantly higher than any other investor-owned electricity supplier in Michigan. DTE recently asked the Michigan Public Service Commission to approve a rate increase that would bring the company an additional $388 million in annual revenue. (Outlier/ProPublica)
Farewell ooze: The site of the notorious green ooze incident on I-696 in Madison Heights is finally being demolished after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) completed a $3.1 million cleanup. The demolition itself could cost around $750,000, with state lawmakers and Oakland County funding. Gary Alfred Sayers, who owned the factory where the ooze-producing chemicals were improperly stored, was sentenced to a year in prison in 2019. Sayers had stored hazardous materials like hexavalent chromium in dirt holes in the facility’s basement that then seeped into the ground and out onto the interstate. (Metro Times)
Bulk storage blues: The owners of the Detroit Bulk Storage site, which collapsed into the Detroit River twice, are suing DBS over damages caused by the incidents and ongoing enforcement actions. “The property has been in heavy industrial use for over a century and DBS knew or should have known that the earthen material under the aggregate pile contained hazardous substances,” property-owner Revere Dock, an affiliate of the Erickson Group, said in its filing. DBS has stored aggregate on both sides of the Detroit River for years but recently shut down its operations in Detroit. The company was illegally storing materials during both incidents, and $139,450 worth of fines were issued against the company. The site where DBS operated, the former Revere Copper facility, had been used to process uranium products. The soil was known to contain several hazardous chemicals, raising concerns that the disturbance of soil or sediment could send pollutants into downstream drinking water intakes. (Windsor Star, Planet Detroit)
Bus money: The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) is awarding $74 million in federal grants for new buses, electric bus charging infrastructure, and measures to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality. The grants are part of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) Program. Detroit is the largest recipient of funds, receiving $19.5 million for new buses, traffic signal modernization and a traffic operations center.
The nuclear question: Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is asking for federal assistance to keep the Palisades nuclear power plant in West Michigan open. She said keeping the plant open is necessary to bring investment into the state, protect jobs and “shore up Michigan’s clean energy supply.” The plant’s fate is a divisive issue among environmentalists, although the Michigan Environmental Council expressed support for keeping it open to buy time to roll out more renewable energy. But the state would need to clear several hurdles to stop a shutdown, including finding a willing buyer. The Biden administration recently launched a $6 billion program to rescue nuclear power plants at risk of closing. Although nuclear plants produce no direct greenhouse gas emissions, the nation still lacks a plan for the long-term storage of nuclear waste. (MI Radio, Bridge, AP, WaPo)
Fire hazards: According to a Michigan Auditor General report, the state needs to better inspect aboveground and underground storage tanks containing flammable materials like compressed gas and liquified petroleum gas. The report found that between October 2018 and April 2021, 6,000 storage tanks were overdue for inspection. “Over time, if the tanks are missed or not properly inspected, they absolutely can leak. Or, in a rare occurrence, there could be an emergency moment explosion or some kind of major leak that then creates a contaminated site,” said Nicholas Occhipinti, government affairs director for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. Michigan State Fire Marshal Kevin Sehlmeyer said retirements have cut into the state’s overall number of tank inspectors, although they’re currently training replacements for two of three open positions. (MI Radio)
Unanswered questions: After years of elevated lead levels in Benton Harbor’s drinking water, residents and environmental advocates are looking for more information on the safety of the city’s tap water and if water filters are adequately protective. Ongoing issues at the city’s water treatment plant have raised concerns that harmful bacteria such as Legionella or E. coli could make their way into the water. “Filters are great and necessary for reducing lead exposure when there are no issues at the water treatment plant,” said Elin Betanzo, who runs the consulting firm Safe Water Engineering LLC. “However, these filters are only certified to reduce lead, not microbial contaminants.” A spokesperson for Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) refused to say if filters are adequately protective or if residents should instead drink bottled water, writing, “residents in Benton Harbor can choose which option works best for their families.” (MI Radio, Bridge)