Battleships And Postage Stamps

You can’t mail a battleship with a single postage stamp. There is a lot of talk about 100 percent renewable energy and future goals for a carbon-free world. While laudable, big talk doesn’t stop the battleship that is climate change. Action on a large scale is what we need.

Utilities own more than 9,000 MW of coal plants inside our state boundaries. If these plants are to be closed as the latest talk suggests, they obviously have to be replaced with some other forms of energy. Wind and solar are the best carbon-free options today, but it is getting harder to locate them within the state of Michigan.

Last year, two townships in Michigan’s thumb region decided they didn’t want any more wind turbines. Thus, a wind farm project with developers ready to build and utilities ready to purchase never got built. In 2019, wind developers are poised to lose another battle over a wind project in Baraga County. Locally, we have one windmill in our region to show for over two decades of talk about the benefits of renewable energy.

Either one of these failed wind projects would have taken Cherryland’s carbon-free portfolio from 56 percent to over 70 percent. If we had been lucky enough to work out a deal on both (which was in play at one point), our members would have benefited from 80 percent carbon-free energy for decades. Losing both is clearly a bitter pill to swallow.

So, what about solar you ask? Well, let’s take a large utility-stated goal of 6,000 MW of solar in Michigan by 2040. Today, when we use the math of completed projects, we know that it takes about five acres of land to fit 1 MW of solar. Therefore, we need to cover 30,000 acres with solar panels to reach this goal.

Some will argue that we can find 30,000 acres worth of rooftops on homes and businesses and then we won’t have to cover our beautiful land. I can’t buy that. We need to get all of this energy into the grid so the supply can find the demand. Anybody who thinks we can find 30,000 acres of rooftop on any type of building that can also be conveniently tied to the grid by 2040 is somebody who will not be around to answer for why this didn’t happen.

If we don’t find the land for large wind and solar projects that are not only practical but economically affordable, we will see more and more natural gas plants. Yes, natural gas produces less CO2 than coal but it does produce CO2. When we don’t build coal or nuclear and we can’t site wind or solar on a large scale while demand for electricity grows (don’t tell me we can conserve our way out of this problem either—we can’t), we are left with gas.

If a goal of 100 percent renewable doesn’t come with a zoning/siting plan or a “not-in-my-backyard” resolution, the battleship problem simply sails forward for the next generation to deal with while we stand on the shore with our one lonely postage stamp in the form of a single windmill or a smattering of tiny solar projects.

I don’t want to give up local control, but it could happen in our future because today’s reality shows that the biggest impediment to cleaner energy production at scales that can sink a battleship is Michigan communities and townships.

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36 Comments

  1. Jeff Bihlman March 4, 2019 at 11:14 am - Reply

    Great article Tony! Your candor is appreciated and refreshing. The baby boomer generation and its stubbornness to change is holding improvements to our energy infrastructure back. It’s gotta go in somebodies backyard. Let’s make it happen for the future of America.

  2. Dennis Ring March 4, 2019 at 12:15 pm - Reply

    Utility companies need to be working on providing the cheapest most reliable energy. The “de-carbonizing” meme is getting old. I urge everyone to educate themselves i on this issue. We live in a time when science is corrupted by ideology but there is good information out there for the concerned.

    • Greg Neer March 4, 2019 at 1:39 pm - Reply

      Right on Dennis…

    • Tony Anderson March 4, 2019 at 8:00 pm - Reply

      Cherryland’s mission statement is: Member Focused, safe, reliable, affordable. It is that simple for me every day. The wind prices we are seeing in the market today fit our mission. The problem is that they are not getting built. In 2018, our wholesale power supply was 62% carbon free for the first time in our history AND our wholesale price did NOT increase. Our 2018 reliability number was 99.98%. It is impossible to hit 100% in our region due to weather, animals and drivers who leave the road seemingly attracted to the nearest power pole but we will always keep trying.

  3. Mary Davis March 4, 2019 at 12:23 pm - Reply

    Bravo!

  4. Edward Elbert March 4, 2019 at 12:58 pm - Reply

    The climate change science is total BS. Most of the “models” they use to prove global warming start from the mid 2000’s. In other words they are saying that since 2005 until now we’ve experienced global warming. Airports have been tracking weather since the 1940’s Do your own research. Use public weather data from the airports around the world. If you take the data from the 1940’s until now, the highest temperatures aren’t even in the range from the year 2005 until now.

    This is just another example of the socialist agenda in America. “in our backyard” is right…. don’t let them brainwash the masses into giving them control over our land or our industry with their convincing arguments and hokey science. They’re just good at manipulating people with scare tactics.

    • Dennis Jacko March 5, 2019 at 1:44 am - Reply

      You are correct, it boils down to money and when you get people to believe, you can charge them for it. Follow the money. You keep telling a lie long enough people will believe it and when you tell them differently, you are the bad guy.

    • Dire_Straits March 5, 2019 at 3:05 am - Reply

      So three generations of climate scientists from all over the world totaling 97% of these scientists just don’t know what they’re talking about and have erroneously used the wrong models for sixty years? Get real. Fossil fuel companies and the government have known since the 60’s that climate change is real and the primary cause is GHG put into the atmosphere by humans. We no longer have the luxury of denying climate change. It’s real and sixty years of empirical evidence is the proof. If you visited 100 doctors and 97 percent told you that you have cancer, would you believe the three who said they thought you didn’t? Wake up, your children and grandchildren demand it!

      • Greg neer March 5, 2019 at 2:24 pm - Reply

        “They” told you 97% of alleged “scientists” say there is climate change. You dont really know this yourself….

  5. Achille Souvatzidis March 4, 2019 at 1:00 pm - Reply

    Tony, Thank you for this write up. I came to know that you want the best and I appreciate that. Kindly make the powers to be know that for our electricity we need to accept coal power plants and also solar energy which in Michigan is very much appreciated any time LOL. YES the Climate Control “freaks” need to understand that we will not succumb to their talk. Their common denominator of giving us fear for the tomorrow is ill based and unfounded. The only way to become responsible is to become aware of any and all available Technology at the time. Personally recalling a talk I had with the Owner of an Electrical Contractor Company who did not see the benefits of a GEO Pump only because it would have costed more upfront. Yet, he did not understand that in the longer term a GEO Pump was not only very cost efficient but also more effective for the environment. Indeed we need to calculate all of our costs short and long range and then take the best solution not just for the money but for the environment. Regards … Archie

  6. Karen Walters March 4, 2019 at 1:00 pm - Reply

    Refreshing to read a to the point, not sugar coated article! Simple math seems to be difficult for many zero carbon thinkers. Thank you

  7. Craig A. Rolfe March 4, 2019 at 2:01 pm - Reply

    How about providing a reliable supply of electricity from proven sources of energy at the lowest cost for your members, instead of “tilting at windmills”, literally. When common sense (and actual sound science, not based on rigged models) finally prevails, those obsessed with the “global warming”, er, I mean “climate change” nonsense will be exposed for the collectivist fools that they are. One can only hope we reach that point before they’ve destroyed the electricity grid, and the rest of the economy as well.

    • Tony Anderson March 4, 2019 at 7:57 pm - Reply

      Cherryland’s mission statement is: Member Focused, safe, reliable, affordable. It is that simple for me every day. The wind prices we are seeing in the market today fit our mission. The problem is that they are not getting built. In 2018, our wholesale power supply was 62% carbon free for the first time in our history AND our wholesale price did NOT increase.

  8. Traci voss March 4, 2019 at 2:20 pm - Reply

    Are you going to be offering solar power for residential homes ? If so we would be interested ! Thank you ! Traci and Rick Voss .

    • Tony Anderson March 4, 2019 at 7:54 pm - Reply

      There are many local installers of solar systems. You also have many options that Cherryland can explain to you. Please call 486-9200 and ask for Energy Use Advisor Tammy Squires.

  9. John lombardi March 4, 2019 at 2:40 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the update. I believe we need to pursue carbon free energy based on the research of the experts. It is not a liberal agenda. It is a people and earth agenda.

  10. Dave Povich March 4, 2019 at 2:42 pm - Reply

    CO2 makes up about 4 parts per 10,000 of our atmosphere, with about 1-1/2 per 10,000 of that being attributable to human activity. CO2 is the sustenance of life on Earth. Using CO2 as a political cudgel is wrong and uninformed. Thank you to Tony and Cherryland for being proponents of a balanced approach to this issue, and for providing reliable and affordable electricity to your customer base.

  11. Tom Gallery March 4, 2019 at 3:21 pm - Reply

    So how could you find 30,000 acres for solar? Do the math. One acre of solar will produce 240,000 kWh/year. At Cherryland’s Buy-All rate of 6.5c/kWh that’s $15,600/year per acre. Ask anyone growing row crops how much they make per acre. In a good year it’s $500. In a bad year it’s a loss. Solar developers in Michigan have been offering 25 year leases at $800/acre per year and farmers have been lining up to sign because $800 is far more than they can make as growers. There are 51,600 farms in Michigan totaling 995,000 acres. It would take 0.3% of Michigan’s farmland to install 6000 mW of solar. And it would generate far more income than those acres are currently producing.

    • Tom Gallery March 4, 2019 at 4:27 pm - Reply

      Correction. There are 9,950,000 acres of farmland in Michigan, almost 10 million acres. Average farm size is 193 acres.(Michigan Farm Bureau, 2014)

    • Eric Blomberg March 4, 2019 at 4:31 pm - Reply

      Intriguing. What about all the pollution in creating, repairing and disposing of solar panels? What happens to the panels when the panels life span is up and their lease is up?

      • Tom Gallery March 4, 2019 at 6:45 pm - Reply

        There have been many “life cycle” studies to answer your question. The carbon balance is typically 3-6 months of operation to offset the manufacturing and disposal of solar panels. Solar panels are glass, plastic, aluminum and silicon with some copper wire. Everything is recyclable. Lifespan is over 25 years. I’ve seen 40 year old panels in operation.

        • Tony Anderson March 4, 2019 at 7:38 pm - Reply

          Everyone can do their own research on the recyclability of solar panels. I am not an expert in that area. One point to remember about solar panels is that they will degrade over time and the energy production will go down. A 40 year old solar panel will not produce the same as a 1 year old solar panel.

    • Tony Anderson March 4, 2019 at 7:53 pm - Reply

      I don’t know every farmer in Michigan but I have yet to meet one that has actually received $800 per acre from any completed development. They could be out there but in my personal experience, I have seen numerous farmers excited at the prospect and disappointed in the results. To anyone reading this blog, I encourage you to get a good attorney before signing any agreement and committing your land to a developer for a long period of time. Often the fine print says there is no pay out until a project is completed. Buyer beware – if it sounds too good to be true……Solar will have planning and zoning issues as well. Just like wind, these need to be worked out and resolved if we are going to move the needle in the next 20 years. There may be legitimate developers out there willing to pay $800 per acre but nobody will see that money if the local township doesn’t approve the project.

    • John Lake March 5, 2019 at 4:33 pm - Reply

      Tom Gallery. If we fill up all of the farm land with solar panels, who’s going to produce your food? Sure, we can ship it in from other states, but shipping increases prices to the consumer.

      • Tom Gallery March 8, 2019 at 7:50 am - Reply

        I don’t think 0.3% of the farmland in Michigan represents all the farmland in Michigan.

  12. Eric Blomberg March 4, 2019 at 4:19 pm - Reply

    I have so many questions. What is the optimum temperature the Earth should be? What percentage is man’s contribution of CO2 (if any) to global warming? How can CO2 be a pollutant since it is essential for plants and hence life on earth? What about the pollution created in the making, damage and recycling of solar panels? Is this warming period a natural cycle of the Earth much as the temperature cycles of the past? Overall isn’t a warmer planet a healthier planet for sustaining mankind? Hasn’t the Earth been naturally warming since the Little Ice Age? If man made global warming is responsible for a higher number of natural disasters, why have we experienced less in the years of the last two decades? How can we trust the models and predictions for three plus decades from MMGW scientists, when they have admittedly falsified data and failed in their predictions?

    • Tony Anderson March 4, 2019 at 7:47 pm - Reply

      All your questions are good ones. I simply don’t think it is worth anyone’s time to go deep into this debate. It is polarizing for both sides. As a utility person, I have always focused on affordability first. The fact remains that wind is affordable today and can be an effective portion of a utility’s generation portfolio. It will never be 100% of the portfolio. I would like to have more wind in my portfolio for the price reason first. Then, if it helps the environment, I get an second win. I can’t get a single win if we can’t build wind in Michigan. So, we simply have an opportunity for both sides of the debate to come together under the common goal of building affordable and clean power supply. There is nothing to debate in that common goal. Life can be that simple if we stop arguing and start building. The goal of the column was to point out that we have talked about clean energy in our region for 20 years and have little to show for it. We can’t let this happen over the next 20 years.

  13. Denise Busley March 4, 2019 at 5:23 pm - Reply

    Tony, thank you for your leadership. There will always be people who think the world is flat and climate change isn’t a thing. Those people will be long off the planet when the reprocussions of “doing nothing” to reduce human carbon output are felt by our grandchildren. The time is NOW to take action.

  14. Jim & Lois Redmann March 4, 2019 at 7:17 pm - Reply

    Tony Thank you for writing this article. I am more in favor of adding more nuclear, which is more reliable than both solar and wind. Today a nuclear plant can be put in and will provide electricity for many years with out a great deal of upkeep where as wind and solar have much more. Also a nuclear plant will not require all the land that wind and solar require. Please talk to our providers to put in more nuclear in their generation portfolio. .

    • Tony Anderson March 4, 2019 at 7:36 pm - Reply

      We made a big jump in our nuclear portfolio in 2018 after we lost out on a wind farm that wasn’t built in Michigan due to zoning restrictions. Nuclear is carbon free and as you point out, it provides electricity around the clock.

      • Rick Bowman March 6, 2019 at 2:44 am - Reply

        Glad to find out that Cherryland supports nuclear power generation. Guess that I shouldn’t be surprised with the fine line maintenance program that Cherryland provides to its customers. Thanks Tony and thanks to all of the staff at Cherryland!

  15. Karen Wachs March 5, 2019 at 7:16 pm - Reply

    100 percent renewable energy and a carbon-free world is necessary and doable. Sometimes we just have to do the right thing. I am so sick of Tony Anderson’s subtle disparages of solar and wind power. Coal plants are being shuttered left and right all across our country. PURE Michigan should have shuttered all of its coal plants YESTERDAY. Fossil fueled energy is outdated, dirty and harmful, period. Renewable energy is where its at. Stop fighting it and get with the program. Hopefully Governor Whitmer will finally usher Michigan into a GREEN 21st century.

    • robert t lenten March 12, 2019 at 12:19 am - Reply

      ALL FORMS of energy, balanced, safe, reliable etc. ALL FORMS! Grid improvements, efficiency improvements are ABSOLUTELY necessary. After that, we can then eliminate the excess generation from whatever form. Only after that.

  16. Roger Deemer March 6, 2019 at 4:46 pm - Reply

    I don’t get why so many people are still spouting their political hostilities here. Tony’s telling us that wind power is now affordable and clean. Whether you believe climate change is a problem or not, it’s now simply good business to add more wind power to Michigan’s diverse energy portfolio. It’s time to stop bickering and do what makes sense.

    Thank you Tony, for your willingness to be a lightning rod and your steadfastness in staying the course to provide affordable, reliable, and now clean energy.

  17. robert t lenten March 12, 2019 at 12:26 am - Reply

    ALL FORMS of energy, is the best option, Improve efficiency, grid improvements, home improvements, business efficiency, insulate etc. Keep all forms, build renewables. Get actual real time proven data for OUR area, then re-evaluate and remove whatever excess generation from whatever form shows the least effectiveness. Excess generation. Until that time add don’t remove. Local generation of power is important for stability of the grid, in whatever form that is, even dams.

  18. robert t lenten March 12, 2019 at 12:29 am - Reply

    Look at Venezuela, 80% from one source…….that failed….ALL FORMS absolutely necessary!

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