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TBT — Energy Assistance: Crisis Response vs. Prevention

Temperatures continue to drop as we head further into fall, which can only mean one thing: winter really IS coming. Experts are predicting a bitterly cold winter for the Midwest this year, and Michigan needs to be prepared to address energy assistance needs across our state.

The Best Approach for Low-Income Michiganders

When it comes to assisting low-income Michiganders, especially during our brutally cold winters, most government agencies and charitable organizations take one of two approaches. Both are vital to helping Michiganders in need, but which is the more effective solution in the long term?

While there will always be a need for emergency assistance, AMP believes that by helping households better plan for and manage their energy needs via self-sufficiency programs, we can empower Michiganders to make smarter energy decisions, and work to end the vicious “shut-off cycle” that ensnares many low-income families.

Here’s a quick reminder of how the shut-off cycle works:

  • Crisis assistance programs—like the State Emergency Relief (SER) program and The Heat and Warmth Fund (THAW)provide low-income households a lifeline when time is critical, often when they are struggling to pay their bills or have had their power shut off.
  • After receiving crisis assistance to meet their most immediate needs—especially if their power is disconnected—many low-income families face reconnection fees and other charges that add up fast, causing them to fall behind on their energy bills again.
  • This can often mean needing more crisis assistance, resulting in a never-ending shut-off cycle that fails to address the root of the problem.

Crisis assistance is like addressing the symptoms of an illness, whereas self-sufficiency planning and prevention is like treating the disease as a whole. The shut-off cycle is debilitating for low-income families. AMP believes that by working to empower Michiganders with the tools they need, they can break this cycle.

Making the Most of Available Funding

Both crisis assistance and self-sufficiency programs have one thing in common: they rely on federal funding from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which in turn helps fund the Michigan Energy Assistance Program (MEAP).

Given LIHEAP’s uncertain future, Michigan should be using every federal energy assistance dollar as wisely and carefully as possible. That means focusing on solutions that provide a path to self-sufficiency. Programs that help Michiganders take control of their own energy use and manage their bills more effectively and efficiently.

Fortunately, programs like DTE Energy’s Low-Income Self-Sufficiency Program (LSP), Consumers Affordable Resource for Energy (CARE), and Helping Neighbors are helping low-income Michigan households avoid crisis situations by addressing the root cause of late or missing payments.

Do you have any questions about the two sides of the energy assistance equation? Ask us by emailing info@allianceformichiganpower.com!

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What’s NEXT for NEXUS

If you’ve been keeping up with our previous coverage of the NEXUS pipeline, you already know how important this project is for Michigan’s energy—and economic—future.

So where does the NEXUS pipeline project stand?

Below is a timeline of the major NEXUS milestones and what’s still to come as this pipeline becomes a reality:

  • In late November 2016, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) released their final environmental impact statement, approving the project.
  • In August 2017, FERC gave their final OK to NEXUS pipeline construction, formally approving the proposed construction route for the $2 billion pipeline that will run from Northeastern Ohio to Southeastern Michigan before ending at a hub in Ontario, Canada.
  • In September 2017, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued the NEXUS project a water quality certification after a review to ensure it “complies with Ohio law” and protects “the environment and public health.” The decision came after months of consideration of the “technical, economic, social and environmental aspects” of the project, as well as public input via hearings and an extended comment period.
  • In October 2017, energy providers in northern Ohio broke ground and started construction. The Nexus Gas Transmission officially informed FERC that construction on the pipeline began October 16.
  • By 2018, the pipeline should be completed and ready for use.

The NEXUS pipeline project has been closely regulated and evaluated for safe construction and implementation over the past three years. In that time, federal and state regulators have weighed the benefits to our economy, determined mitigation measures to protect and preserve our environment, and received vital input from stakeholders and the public.

And What's the Economic Impact of NEXUS in Michigan?

The NEXUS pipeline will deliver not just cleaner energy to Michigan, but also incredible economic returns for our state. Below are some key numbers you need to know about the economic benefits of the pipeline for Michigan:

  • 1,500
    • The number of local jobs created from construction of the NEXUS pipeline
  • $100 million
    • Total amount in wages that will support Michigan individuals and families
  • $10 million
    • The amount of local tax revenue the pipeline project will generate, helping Michigan workers, families, and communities

The results are conclusive: once complete, the NEXUS pipeline will be an important resource for powering Michigan jobs, boosting local economies, and keeping our energy reliable.

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A Resilient Grid Means a Resilient Michigan: Making the Grid Smarter

Storm season in Michigan is upon us. Of course, what season isn’t storm season in Michigan?

From tornados and high winds to thunderstorms and ice storms, weather in our state can be challenging. It’s easy to forget how important reliable energy is when it flows without interruption

Recent storms like Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria underscore just how much people throughout the U.S. depend on reliable energy to stay safe, productive, and connected.

The resilience of our electric grid is a big factor in how well we are able to weather the frequent storms, so AMP is taking a deeper look at how a strong and hardy grid is paramount to keep energy reliable. Incorporating “smart” technology is one way Michigan’s local energy providers are building a more resilient grid as part of the Wolverine state’s energy future.

What a Smart Grid Means for Michigan

A smarter grid will allow local energy providers to more effectively monitor, address, and correct power issues in real-time—whether they are caused by a powerful wind storm or other issues.

After historically powerful winds tore through the state back in March, nearly a million Michiganders lost power. Later in the summer, violent thunderstorms blew through lower Michigan, wind whipping at nearly 100 miles per hour causing power outages affecting more than 150,000 people.

Not only does advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) help residents save money and conserve energy, it can be a life saver for the most vulnerable when forces beyond our control cause disruptions in our power supply.

AMP has long been a supporter of AMI, which played an integral part in restoring power for those affected during the March storms. During those storms, AMI provided outage notifications thanks to the smart meters attached to Michigan homes and businesses. These smart meters were able to connect Michiganders to operators immediately to provide real-time updates. Additionally, AMI allowed crews to respond quickly and prioritize their efforts more efficiently, restoring power to areas that were hit the hardest. Perhaps the most important example of AMI at work during these storms was the aid provided to the elderly and those with health conditions. If a meter told its provider that one of these vulnerable residents lost power, a follow up call or in-person visit was extended to ensure their safety.

How Do We Incorporate Smart Technology into Michigan’s Grid?

Local energy providers—in conjunction with state regulatory bodies—have been developing smart grid solutions for years.

Consumers Energy’s Smart Energy program and DTE Energy’s SmartCurrents program use smart meters that increase the grid’s efficiency. The Smart Circuits portion of the SmartCurrents program, for example, includes the installation of smart grid sensors and other technologies that help local energy providers monitor power lines, wires, and other equipment to help identify and assess power issues in real-time, which is critical when time is of the essence.

Continuing to make these smart technology improvements and updates to our state’s electric grid is vital. Better communication between consumers and local energy providers—and among different parts of the grid itself—not only improves efficiency, but strengthens reliability for all Michiganders.

Stay tuned for our next blog in this series where we take a deeper look at the importance of a reliable grid and what life looks like when it’s taken for granted.

Stay tuned for more in our discussion about the importance of grid resiliency. In the meantime, let us know if you have a question for us about how smart technology is helping to strengthen and secure our grid by emailing us at info@allianceformichiganpower.com.

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What the MPSC’s Recent Decision on Energy Generation Really Means

After Lansing passed pivotal energy legislation last year, the non-partisan Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) was tasked with implementing various policy changes established by the new law. This new energy law authorizes the MPSC to fairly, transparently, and reasonably implement the law with the input of the public and all stakeholders involved.

The MPSC announced last month their decision to require all energy providers (in-state and out-of-state providers) to demonstrate enough generation capacity to meet the needs of their Michigan customers for a minimum of four years beyond each year they are contracted to provide service.

Let’s Break it Down

The MPSC’s decision on capacity requirements is two-fold, providing flexibility for energy providers while protecting reliability for consumers:

  • Local energy providers like DTE Energy and Consumers Energy will need to submit plans demonstrating capacity for a period of at least four years on December 1, 2017. Other energy providers will have until February 9, 2018 to submit their plans.
  • All energy providers, regardless of type or location, must prove they maintain a reliable energy supply for their in-state customers with energy generated in Michigan beginning in 2022.

Misguided Opposition from Lansing

While the MSPC’s establishment of these clearly defined capacity requirements is a logical step in implementing last year’s energy law, some in Lansing are protesting, making misleading claims that it does not follow the letter of the law and that the regulatory body is overstepping its authority in imposing such a requirement.

The MPSC’s decision to include what’s known as a “local clearing requirement” is not only authorized by last year’s energy law, but it is true to the spirit of Michigan’s new plan for reliable, affordable, and sustainable energy development.

Part of a Michigan-First Energy Policy

As MPSC Chair Sally Talberg explains, the “law explicitly defines the local clearing requirement and the Commission’s role in setting [it] with technical assistance from MISO [the regional operator overseeing the Midwest’s entire energy grid]. The Commission considered each and every provision in the law and how these provisions work together as a cohesive framework. For these and other reasons stated in today’s order, the Commission believes its decision is expressly authorized by the law.”

Holding all energy providers responsible for meeting the capacity needs of their customers promotes in-state energy generation — an approach that is both more reliable and more efficient than transporting energy into Michigan from out of state — both of which are fundamental goals of last year’s energy law. If alternative energy suppliers cannot meet the new capacity and energy generation requirements, they can always purchase capacity from local energy providers at rates determined by the MPSC.

While debate over how to best enact our new energy law is a normal part of the legislative and regulatory process, this latest attempt to undermine the MPSC’s authority is simply misguided. Some may try to derail the progress the MPSC is making, but AMP applauds their decision to require the energy we use to be produced by Michiganders for Michiganders. It will help keep energy reliable for all Michigan homes and businesses — regardless of where they purchase their electricity — and it will help strengthen Michigan’s economy in the process.

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Michigan Energy Supports Michigan Jobs in High Tech

When people think of the tech sector, they understandably think of Silicon Valley. But believe it or not, only five other states added more tech jobs than Michigan in 2015.

Technology now accounts for 202,000 jobs in our state, a number comparable to tourism and other prominent sectors of the economy. And while reliable energy is an important component of supporting a thriving technology sector in our state, the tech sector also plays a key role in helping keep energy reliable and affordable, so the relationship between local energy providers and Michigan’s tech industry is truly symbiotic.

Michigan is in the process of reinventing our state’s energy system, integrating advanced technologies into every aspect of power generation and delivery in Michigan from customer service, to system monitoring, to smart meters that help consumers better track and manage their energy use. And it’s not just local power companies that are adapting and taking advantage of new innovations but also the entire energy supply chain.

Tech Has Transformed Production for Many Different Energy Sources

The way energy is produced has changed drastically in recent years. Those innovations are making a variety of sources, including wind, solar, and natural gas, cleaner, more cost-effective, less disruptive, and more scalable, all of which is good news for Michiganders now and in the future. Technology is helping Michigan transition to more efficient and cleaner energy production and helping renewables become a more significant part of our energy mix.

  • Advanced natural gas technologies have simultaneously increased the supply and reduced the cost of natural gas, providing an ample resource for affordable electricity that can help replace retiring coal-fired generation with much cleaner energy without sacrificing reliability.
  • Better turbine technology is making wind energy more cost-competitive compared to other energy sources. For example, WindTwin harnesses digital twin technology to conduct predictive maintenance of wind turbines. This technological advancement provides wind-farm operators with up-to-the-minute data on how wind turbines are functioning and is helping wind energy become more efficient and productive.

Tech Improves our Electric Infrastructure

Michigan continues to invest in and develop our state’s smart grid. Managing an electric grid to ensure affordable, reliable power is all about having the right information in real time so power can be distributed and maintained efficiently. New technologies like smart grid sensors make the grid more responsive by monitoring power lines and assessing the health of the system to ensure problems are corrected before they occur. Energy providers use this technology to restore power more quickly and limit the number of customers impacted when outages occur. Investments in these types of technologies ultimately make it easier and more cost-efficient to maintain 24/7 reliability.

Increasingly, energy companies are developing and relying on supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) using complex systems of computers, networked data communications, advanced metering, and consumer apps to create an accurate picture of the local power situation. Much of the investment to build out enhanced infrastructure and keep new substations and smart meters on the cutting edge of innovation will be right here in Michigan. Michigan’s own Detroit Labs, LLC has developed an app that allows consumers to report outages and see where power has been restored in storms.

Tech Improves Consumers’ Experience with Electricity

At any level of the supply chain, technology is growing and changing Michigan’s energy industry, including the level where you actually use energy. There are many ways technology is transforming how you interact with energy in your own home. The “Internet of Things” has provided consumers with refrigerators, microwaves, washers, and dryers, and a host of other household items that use technology that not only makes them smart but more energy efficient.

A Place to Grow Talent in Tech

These innovations don’t just translate into more energy-efficient infrastructure, but also into jobs for a wide array of tech workers. A number of initiatives exist to develop homegrown tech talent in Michigan, and others have been established to attract tech workers to the area. Our high-profile universities also strengthen the state’s reputation in this area. Technology is changing our energy supply chain from the ground up, bringing with it new jobs and opportunities for all of Michigan.

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