Don’t Be Left In the Dark Searching for solutions to the energy issues of tomorrow
With all of the chaos happening in the world today, it seems likely very few people are aware of the crisis brewing right in their own backyards. It’s not happening behind the scenes, or in the darkness, but it is creating just that — darkness. In the decade to come, a resource we all rely on is poised to spiral into an insufficiency.
According to a report released in 2016 by the Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA), states in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions of the U.S. will undergo a 44.8 percent electricity shortfall if government administrators and legislation continue to ignore suggestions based on findings. Michigan alone is currently generating energy in the forms of coal, wind, solar, nuclear, oil and natural gas energy.
From a national perspective, one-third of the nation’s capacity for electricity generation is likely to be lost by the year 2030. However, there is a possible fix being proposed by the CEA, one in which they feel is a reasonable solution for curbing a very problematic future — allow for the development of more pipeline infrastructure. Historically speaking, lawmakers and environmentalists alike have shied away from and disputed the idea of pipeline development with propositions often being rejected.
Based on findings from the CEA, the addition of pipeline infrastructure would allow the U.S. to more efficiently and safely deliver vital oil and natural gas to the region. The general idea is by making these essential components more readily available for consumption by both businesses and consumers alike, would, in turn, reduce the region’s dependency on electric energy grids or the need to borrow energy from other regions during unpredictable times of crisis.
In March, Chris Ventura, CEA’s executive director of the Midwest region, visited Lansing to lend a hand in dispelling the stigma against such projects and to speak with local leaders about the organization’s recent findings.
“A lot of my visit revolved around working with elected officials and freshman legislatures to let them know about what’s currently happening and to inform them of how we’ve worked with [legislation] in the past and how our research was put together in terms of things such as the pipeline report and the solar report,” explained Ventura. “We are a national trade association that promotes energy research development. We have an extremely diverse membership with solar, nuclear, mining and other types of energy providers. When we talk about developing those platforms, we’re looking at each one and how we can improve all platforms.”
Ventura acknowledged if the region and its leaders continue to ignore the problem at hand, it won’t be the end of the world, but it won’t be easy either. From a consumer perspective and from the perspective of business owners, both large and small alike, there are major implications.
“We’ve got a great opportunity to store natural gas here in Michigan,” said Ventura. “Michigan has a lower average price than almost any other state according to the Energy Information Administration. Electricity consumption averages are trending higher than the rest of the company because of the changes, 20-25 percent higher when looking on the month. For commercial and industrial, it’s about 10 percent higher. These small shops and manufacturers will struggle, their first cost is human capital and, aside from the product, the next cost concern is energy. To remain competitive, consumers and people must be able to pay their bills to live. The elderly and social security is definitely a concern.”
Pipelines continue to be a difficult subject for lawmakers. Pipeline development is known to present dangerous ecological challenges. Currently, America’s 2.6 million miles of pipelines are the biggest form of transportation in the world — moving billions of gallons of crude oil and gas annually.
The development of more pipelines seems excessive to many and, in the event they would break or leak, would lead to massive harm to the water supply and existing habitats. Many of the currently active pipelines date back as far as 1879 — suffice it to say they’re old. In July of 2010, a pipeline ruptured just outside of Marshall, Mich. spewing crude oil in route from the Canadian tar sands. The largest inland spill of it’s kind resulted in nearly 40 miles of pollution to the Kalamazoo River and a subsequent 4,000 acres of damage to land. The Canadian company, Enbridge, was deemed at fault, paying up to $177 million in damages, while the American public was left to foot the bill for the remaining $1 billion clean-up effort via taxes.
Pipeline issues are isolated incidents. When they happen, they’re catastrophic to the immediate area, but the occasions on which they do are extremely rare. It’s a give and take that the CEA doesn’t shy away from acknowledging.
“Regarding concerns as to whether they continue to be the safest way to transfer any type of liquid or gas, 99.9997 percent of what’s put in at the front end safely arrives to the end user,” explained Ventura. “In terms of safety and reliability, pipelines score higher when you look at that record in comparison to other modes like anchor trucks, ships, etc.”
Changes to the availability of energy are already happening at a local level. As the nation continues to progress and construct a consciousness for sustainability and eco-friendly practices, there has been a reduction in the amount of coal run plants. While these are steps forward for the environment, they come at the cost of reducing the availability of energy to consumers within the region. Michigan, in particular, benefits from having multiple sources of energy, yet the reduction of these means hard hits to the whole.
“Unlike the rest of the country, the Midwest is running nuclear, which isn’t exactly profitable. And now there’s talk about certain coal plants being closed, which we feel has at least another 14 years of benefit,” said Ventura. “When you bring it all together, the losses of both coal and nuclear, and say what’s left regarding energy availability, it becomes clear that they need pipelines. So, if you can’t fill the pipelines then you’re cutting off that third source of power. In the event the remaining units are shut down, in order to run necessary technologies, it’s not feasible to run an industrialized economy that needs power.”
As evidence suggests, action needs to be made sooner rather than later. While the CEA is suggesting steps to take towards proceeding with additional pipeline projects, another practical companion is solar incentives. As one of the world’s most bountiful renewable energy resources, solar energy has long been seen as an untapped source for consumption on a massive scale. As technology advances, solar energy and the panels that create it have become more affordable and readily available for residential and urban installation.
By creating incentives for the use of solar panels for businesses or homes, an option would be created to help offset the cost to operate, which are many times too expensive and unobtainable for average consumers. Incentives which would come in the form of federal grants, could include solar panel rental programs for individual homes and businesses or payment or energy bill reduction for generating solar energy on your premise. Consumers could be penalized for not contributing to the generation of solar energy.
There is much to be done, but whose shoulders does this action fall on? While it’s easy to point a finger at the government at all levels, it remains a cause for the people as they will be the ones that suffer most should change not come. So what do we do? According to Ventura, consumers need to let their voices be heard.
“Reach out to legislators when energy issues arise and let them know their concerns. Let them know they want to be able to pay their bills and that they want to have power when it’s needed. They need to encourage a positive dialogue for the future of Michigan’s energy consumption.”
While the problem is still at-hand, it’s hard for people to say where their hearts may lie considering the cautions that come along with pipeline development. While solar and wind energy remain the most eco-friendly, it’s important to ask if it’s enough. Only time will tell what the future holds for Michigan’s energy consumption and generation tactics, but now is not the time to turn a blind eye to what’s happening. What is for certain is that no one wants to be left in the dark.