News & Events


Energy in the News: Friday, January 12

Alaska may open up again for oil leasing, but risks linger

Associated Press, feat. Mark Barteau

President Donald Trump’s plan to open America’s oceans to petroleum drilling drew condemnation from West Coast and Florida governors but was welcomed in the state where most lease sales could be held.

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, an independent facing re-election this year, embraced Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s proposed 19 lease sales in the state, including six in the potentially oil rich but environmentally sensitive Arctic Ocean waters.

“The Department of Interior’s draft five-year offshore leasing plan is an important step toward allowing Alaskans to responsibly develop our natural resources as we see fit,” he said Thursday.

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Rejection of subsidies for coal and nuclear power is a win for fact-based policymaking

The Conversation, feat. Ellen Hughes-Cromwick

Energy Secretary Rick Perry has repeatedly expressed concern over the past year about the reliability of our national electric power grid. On Sept. 28, 2017, Perry ordered the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to revise wholesale electricity market rules to help ensure “… a reliable, resilient electric grid powered by an ‘all of the above’ mix of generation resources.” Perry’s proposal included an implicit subsidy to owners of coal and nuclear power plants, to compensate them for keeping a 90-day fuel supply on-site in the event of a disruption to the grid.

On Jan. 8, FERC issued a statement, supported by all five commissioners, terminating Perry’s proposal. The commissioners held that paying generators to store fuel on-site would only benefit some fuel types. And although coal and nuclear plants are retiring in large numbers, commissioners were not persuaded that this was due to unfair pricing in power markets.

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Michigan’s bid for Amazon HQ2 helped by ability to attract young talent, state expert says

The Detroit Free Press, feat. Ellen Hughes-Cromwick

Ellen Hughes-Cromwick, interim associate director and senior economist at the University of Michigan Energy Institute, said the state has tremendous assets — including physical, financial and people — to make headway in the mobility sector, including self-driving vehicles.

She noted that the state has had incredible business leaders for a long time.

“We’ve peaked out in terms of auto sales,” said Hughes-Cromwick, a former chief global economist at Ford Motor Co.

But she said the auto industry is not seeing signs that would contribute to another downturn now. Signals of trouble ahead, she said, would include major policy mistakes, oil price shocks and what she called “wicked errors in optimism.”

“I don’t see those right now,” she said.

She said Michigan needs to continue its push to be globally competitive and drive hard to be a leader in the mobility sector to create job

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For more on Michigan’s economy:

Experts: Michigan’s economic recovery slowing down,The Detroit News, feat. Ellen Hughes-Cromwick, Read more

Howes: Outlook brightens for Michigan economy, jobs, The Detroit News, feat. Ellen Hughes-Cromwick, Read more

Everyone is making the same big mistake about electric cars

Business Insider, feat. Michael Sivak

Compared to just a decade ago, we have a lot more choices when it comes to buying an electric car.

Short-range EVs such as the Nissan Leaf and the BMW i3 have been around for years, and long-range, mass-market EVs like the Chevy Bolt and Tesla Model S have started to arrive.

Electric vehicles continue to make up a tiny percentage of global sales — only about 1% — but more are on the way, so presumably that datapoint will improve over time. Unfortunately, much of the analysis around EVs’ potential tends to lump all EVs together, ignoring some of the obvious dynamics of the auto market.

On average, running a vehicle on electricity is over 50% more cost-effective that running a car on gas. There’s really no debate about this, and the simple fact was recently backed up in a University of Michigan study by Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle.

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Pizza Hut is working on self-driving delivery trucks

CNN Tech, feat. MCity

Your Pizza Hut delivery could one day arrive via a self-driving Toyota van.

Toyota unveiled a concept vehicle called e-Palette, which could host a mobile store, act as a ride-sharing service or deliver packages. The announcement was unveiled at International CES in Las Vegas on Monday.

The automaker said it is teaming up with a handful of partners, including Pizza Hut, Amazon, Chinese ridesharing giant Didi and Uber.

“Today, you have to travel to the stores,” Toyota president Akio Toyoda said at the event. “In the future with e-Pallete, the store will come to you.”

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Ann Arbor’s electric-car charging stations seeing highest usage ever


Nearly six years ago, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority installed the first 18 electric car charging stations for public use at six parking locations downtown.

Since then, five more have been added, and the 23 chargers have delivered enough juice to displace more than 1 million miles of gasoline-fueled travel, said Dave Konkle, the DDA’s energy consultant.

Konkle considers that a milestone worth noting ahead of this week’s Sustainable Ann Arbor forum on electric vehicles.

“It’s showing the impact that electric cars are now starting to have on transportation in Ann Arbor,” he said.

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In Michigan, solar growth meets uncertainty with end of net metering

Midwest Energy News

The number of customers selling electricity back to the grid in Michigan climbed again in 2016, according to an annual report released by the state last month.

The state’s net-metering program, which lets ratepayers sell surplus power back to the grid at retail prices, added 427 customers and nearly 5 megawatts of capacity, most of it from solar.

While the state’s total solar capacity doubled last year through utility-scale projects, net-metering momentum is at risk after 2018, as the state prepares to replace net metering with a tariff aimed at better reflecting the value of solar and other forms of distributed generation.

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Issues of the Environment: Seeking air quality improvement in Southeast Michigan


The federal government plans to end the Clean Power Plan, and that may have negative consequences on the environment.  In this week’s “Issues of the Environment,” WEMU’s David Fair talks to Kindra Weid, Coalition Coordinator for MI Air MI Health, about how Southeast Michigan’s air quality could be impacted by this executive action.


Cold snap reignites debate over future of New England grid

E&E Climatewire

During the recent cold snap, coal-fired power plants rumbled to life in some parts of the United States, helping to keep the lights on amid a nearly two-week deep freeze.

Not in New England, where coal took a back seat. The region instead relied on other fossil fuels and renewables as temperatures plunged, reigniting debate over the future of the six states’ shared electric grid.

Natural gas prices soared during the cold snap. At one point, New England’s spot prices registered as the most expensive in the world. That prompted power plant owners to idle their natural gas-fired workhorses — which generally provide about half of New England’s electricity — in favor of their seldom-used oil units.

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Almost all power plants that retired in the past decade were powered by fossil fuels

U.S. Energy Information Administration

Nearly all of the utility-scale power plants in the United States that were retired from 2008 through 2017 were fueled by fossil fuels. Of the total retired capacity, coal power plants and natural gas steam turbines accounted for the highest percentages, 47% and 26%, respectively. Most of the planned retirements through 2020 will also be coal plants and natural gas steam turbines, based on information reported to EIA.

Various factors influence the decision to retire a power plant. For example, the coal power plants retired since 2008 were relatively old and small, averaging 52 years and 105 megawatts (MW), compared with the fleet of coal plants still operating, at 39 years and 319 MW. Other influential factors include changes in regional electricity use, federal or state policies that affect plant operation, and state policies that require or encourage the use of certain fuels such as renewables.

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Power companies got a tax cut. Will your bill reflect it?

The New York Times

The newly passed tax law could save Americans billions of dollars on their utility bills.

In recent days, electric companies in Massachusetts, Illinois, Oregon and other states have announced plans to pass their tax cuts on to customers through lower rates. On Tuesday, Pepco, which provides power to nearly 300,000 customers in Washington, D.C., said it would cut rates beginning in the current quarter.

Other utilities might be forced to follow suit. In much of the country, investor-owned utilities have a monopoly on providing electricity and gas to homes and businesses. State regulators allow them to charge rates high enough to recoup their costs — including the cost of paying taxes — and to provide a return to their shareholders. Those regulators periodically scrutinize rates to ensure that they are reasonable. When taxes go down, so should customers’ utility bills.

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How the shale bust created Trump’s economic boom


Not all job growth is created equal. Even though 2017 didn’t accelerate job growth over all, it accelerated growth in the right kind of jobs.

High-paying goods-producing job growth jumped to 465,000 in 2017, from 64,000 in 2016. This was the second-best year for goods-producing jobs growth of the expansion. Starting from a level of low labor slack, this is impressive.

President Donald Trump’s supporters will chalk up the performance to his stewardship of the economy, but the more sensible place to give credit is the shale oil bust that began in 2014.

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It’s the same story under Trump as under Obama: Coal is losing out to natural gas

The Washington Post

Just a day after federal regulators nixed a major Trump administration proposal to shore up the struggling coal industry, the nation’s top energy forecaster predicted continuing, slow declines in U.S. coal production and in the burning of coal for electricity in 2018 and 2019, thanks to cheap natural gas and coal plant retirements.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s monthly short-term energy outlook, the first to include predictions for 2019, projected that coal production will decline from 773 million short tons last year to 759 million in 2018 and 741 million in 2019. The burning of coal for electricity — its chief use in the United States — also will decline steadily.

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Interior rescinds climate, conservation policies because they’re ‘inconsistent’ with Trump’s energy goals

The Washington Post

The Interior Department’s No. 2 official issued a secretarial order just before Christmas rescinding several climate change and conservation policies issued under the Obama administration, saying they were “inconsistent” with President Trump’s quest for energy independence.

Secretarial Order 3360, signed Dec. 22 by Interior Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt, wipes away four separate directives and policy manuals aimed at showing departmental employees how to minimize the environmental impact of activities on federal land and in federal waters. It also calls for the review of a fifth, which applies to the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. Instead, it directs officials to reinstate and update guidance issued during the final year of George W. Bush’s second term by Jan. 22.

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