Infrastructure, renewables popular topics at annual conference


Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE — Community leaders joined representatives from the energy industry to talk about everything from utility rates to gas and electric infrastructure during the day-long Upper Peninsula Energy Summit on Friday at Northern Michigan University’s Northern Center.

Roughly 250 participants heard from Enbridge Director of Public Relations Peter Holran; Carmen Clark, the regional manager of customer affairs for the MidContinent Independent System Operator central region; a Michigan Public Service Commission panel made up of MPSC Chairwoman Sally Talberg, Commissioner Norman Saari and Commissioner Daniel Scripps; Upper Peninsula Power Co. Vice President of Business Development and Communications Brett French; and Tim Lubbers, director of business development, community and legislative engagement for Semco Energy Gas Co.

The Michigan Electric Cooperative Association, the Michigan Electric and Gas Association and the Michigan Municipal Electric Association were also represented at the summit.

Deb Muchmore, a consultant who moderated the MPSC’s portion of the summit, called the event a “premier gathering of industry leaders.”

Discussion of renewable energy resources like wind and solar were threaded throughout the day’s presentations.

“The watchword for today is all transformation,” Muchmore said. “We all know that our energy infrastructure and our energy resources are in a fast phase of evolution and transformation, really toward that renewable portfolio that is so prominent in our discussions today … You can see just how quickly that evolution is occurring. It presents wonderful opportunities and challenges for us.”

Other common concerns among industry leaders were energy reliability during polar vortex weather events in order to deliver both heat and electric service to Michigan residents; cybersecurity across all energy providers; and, of course, energy rates for Upper Peninsula residents.

U.P. infrastructure highlights included UPPCO’s Smart Energy program, which will deploy smart meters that can be read remotely to all participating customers by June 2020; a 42-mile Semco gas transmission connector pipeline that’s expected to be in service by November, which officials say is ahead of schedule; and Enbridge’s proposed Line 5 Straits of Mackinac Tunnel, which is expected to be completed by 2024. Enbridge expects to purchase the tunnel boring machine for the $500 million project by early 2020.

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is lbowers@miningjournal.net.