Snyder talks waste reduction at regional gathering

U.P. Energy Summit held

Gov. Rick Snyder

MARQUETTE — During the U.P. Energy Summit Thursday in Marquette, one message Gov. Rick Snyder tried to convey was the importance of energy efficiency and eliminating energy waste.

Snyder said as officials began looking at how to show people projected changes in the state’s energy landscape, they almost fell into the “traditional trap” of using a “normal pie chart” depicting percentages of energy fuel sources, such as how much of the state’s energy is derived from coal, natural gas, nuclear power and so on.

“They’re dangerous, and the reason I say they’re dangerous, … is because they overlook the best energy answer you can get, and that’s the energy you don’t need to use,” he said.

Snyder said there is more opportunity in the Upper Peninsula for energy waste elimination efforts.

“Not just in our homes, but in our schools and our businesses, and we need to be innovative about looking at financing all opportunities because they’ll have a positive payback,” he said, later adding that he is also looking into on-bill financing to assist funding energy-efficient upgrades.

“I think that’s a critically important opportunity for our low-income folks that are renters because quite often a landlord or a renter will have no motivation to do energy improvements,” he said. “And if there’s alternative financing mechanisms, we can get creative to actually show how everyone can win; we can break that logjam of having bad answers.”

Building new generation is one answer Snyder sees to calming electric reliability concerns that have been circulating throughout the U.P. since 2011, when initial reports were made of the possible closure of the Presque Isle Power Plant in Marquette.

Since then, a deal has been established to build two new natural gas-fueled generating facilities to replace the aging coal-fired Presque Isle plant. The new facilities, to be located in Marquette and Baraga counties, are to be owned by the Upper Michigan Energy Resources Corp., a subsidiary of WEC Energy Group — parent company to We Energies, which owns and operates the Presque Isle plant.

“There was aging assets here that weren’t going to make it, that didn’t make sense — using coal, using older things that were very expensive,” he said. “We needed to find new sources and we went on a process that took several years to work through it, so now we have an opportunity to have new generation capacity in the U.P.”

Snyder said the two plants provide flexibility and allow for relatively easy future expansion should the need for more electric capacity exist. Additionally, he said connecting the U.P.’s transmission system to the Lower Peninsula and Canada also may help improve electric reliability in the long-term.

“So we’re going through that analysis now of how do we study how we can connect to, one, ourselves — I mean it’s ironic that’s never happened — and then secondly, we’ve got some people that are very close to us that actually have a lot of energy in Ontario,” he said. “Let’s at least talk to them. They’re our neighbors. That’s common sense. This isn’t rocket science. How do we talk to them to see if there’s an opportunity there?”

Efforts to connect the power grid in the U.P. to that in the southern peninsula have been made in the past.

Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, introduced a bill in April 2015 to establish that connection, though the effort died in committee.

In addition, former Rep. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, proposed an amendment to the state’s latest energy reform legislation, which was adopted on the final day of the 2015-16 legislative session without the support of U.P. lawmakers. McBroom’s amendment was not included in the law, which was passed by legislators and signed by Snyder.

Rep. John Kivela, D-Marquette, said in a December press release that McBroom’s amendment could have established a “true path towards a possible electric connection between our state’s peninsulas, which would have allowed the Upper Peninsula to no longer be dependent on Wisconsin.”

Around that time, Rep. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet, also issued a press release saying the adopted energy legislation didn’t help U.P. families with high utility bills or address the U.P.’s unique energy needs. Dianda also offered amendments to the proposal that, among other things, would have expanded net metering to allow residents the ability to produce their own power; increase customer choice; and require the state’s utility oversight commission to hold hearings in the U.P., rather than Lansing, when energy companies with service territories there ask for rate changes.