Energy optimization and efficiency are vital to more secure, reliable energy future for Michigan

on April 08, 2015 at 2:37 PM, updated April 08, 2015 at 2:53 PM

by Hannah Watts

“There was a lot to like in his message,” Skip Pruss tells Kirk Heinze on Greening of the Great Lakes. “He set the bar high and indicated that Michigan should meet 30 to 40 percent of its future energy needs through renewable energy and energy efficiency.”

Pruss talks with Heinze to summarize his reaction to Governor Snyder’s recent message on Michigan’s energy security and discusses ambitious goals for the state’s renewable energy standards.

Stanley “Skip” Pruss is co-founder of the clean energy technology consultancy, 5 Lakes Energy and previously served as the director of the Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth and as Michigan’s chief energy officer.

High expectations

With Michigan on track to meet its 10 percent renewable energy target by the end of this year, Pruss is baffled by opposition from some businesses and individuals to continuing or raising it.

“So far it’s been an unqualified success and cost less than half of what was anticipated in 2008,” he says. “It means cheaper energy in the long run for Michigan businesses and homeowners.”

Governors around the country are requiring more renewable energy and putting emphasis on efficiency. Snyder’s call for 30 to 40 percent renewables is not a legislative mandate, so much of the effort to reach that benchmark will be voluntary, Pruss adds.

“The notion that government mandates somehow interfere with the market is ironic to say the least,” he says. “Our utilities are natural monopolies, essentially have no competition, get a fixed rate of return and are already heavily regulated. It’s entirely appropriate for the legislature or the Michigan Public Service Commission to set standards for the state’s energy portfolio.”

Current energy consumption

Michigan residents and businesses collectively use 35 to 38 percent more energy on average than the rest of the United States. Pruss attributes part of this to the cold winters and use of natural gas but says Michigan ranks lower on a per capita basis in comparison with other states.

“Nationally, Michigan residents also pay above average rates for energy, but there’s an important distinction to be made between the price of energy and the total cost to the business or homeowner,” he says. “Our homeowners may pay a higher rate, but we use less electricity. So the overall cost is really less than in Ohio.”

An economic booster

The Michigan Public Service Commission produces an annual report to the legislature analyzing the economics of renewable energy and energy efficiency.

“Energy optimization and efficiency are vital to the economy and should always be the first thing that we do.”

“The energy that we don’t use is always cheaper and cleaner than the energy we have to produce to meet that need,” he says.

A report by the PEW Charitable Trusts found that energy efficiency has added more than $2.9 billion to the Michigan economy. Renewable energy has added more than $4.9 billion and both have created more than 70,000 jobs, Pruss says.

“Energy optimization and efficiency are vital to the economy and should always be the first thing that we do.”

Solar is coming

Michigan is a leader when it comes to wind energy, but there is still large potential for growth in solar energy. Pruss believes we’ll see a sharp increase in solar use in the coming years.

“New Jersey, a state with less solar radiation than Michigan, deploys more solar energy every quarter than Michigan has to date,” he says. “The silver lining is that prices of use and installation are decreasing, and we will deploy a lot of it in the future.”

“The solar energy from upcoming solar projects from the Lansing Board of Water and Light will cost around 6.5 cents per kilowatt hour, and the cost from a new coal plant would be about 13.3 cents per kilowatt hour,” he says. “Solar is coming and we are going to see a lot of it.”

Snyder also addressed the controversy surrounding natural gas exploration and hydraulic fracking, indicating it will continue to occur under strict regulation.

“It’s becoming clear that the natural gas formations in Michigan aren’t as robust as once anticipated,” Pruss says. ” We are not going to see a lot of it now.”

A major issue with fracking is the tremendous amount of water used in the extraction process. There is also potential for contamination of aquifers and surface waters as a result of the methods, chemicals and additives in the water, Pruss adds.

“We need natural gas. We need a reliable, adaptable energy supply, but I’m wary of investing so much money in natural gas plants that may be obsolete in a very short period of time.”