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An uncertain future

April 6, 2008
Janelle Packer
The proposed Wolverine Clean Energy Venture in Rogers City has prompted much debate in the region regarding what “clean” really means and what impact a coal based power plant would have on the area.

Ken Bradstreet, director of community and public affairs for Wolverine, said the proposed power plant will be much cleaner than any existing coal fired power plant in the state.

This is something Jim Dulzo, Michigan Land Use Institute managing editor, said may be true in regard to sulfur oxide and nitrous oxide, but that is not the reason he objects to the plant.

“My objection to the plant is that coal, no matter how clean it is, for the amount of energy you get out of it, puts the most carbon dioxide into the atmosphere,” Dulzo said.

Bradstreet said the proposed plant, to be located on the Carmeuse property, well outside any residential areas in the city, will be the source for baseload power for Wolverine customers.

The 600 megawatt plant actually will be two 300 megawatt plants, with a single stack, located on over 400 acres of land no longer used by the existing quarry. Wolverine’s current power demand is between 350 and 400 megawatt and covers almost half of the state.

The reason for the new plant construction is one of supply and demand for Wolverine. It has been purchasing its baseload power from other utilities and its contract for that expires in 2011.

At that time, Wolverine will either have to supply its own baseload power or purchase it from the market. The price of supplying its own power or purchasing it from the market is something Bradstreet compared to the price of buying a new car or renting it per day.

Coal is a traditional form of energy, utilized by most large power companies, such as Wolverine. In recent years, there has been a push toward non-traditional energy sources and Bradstreet said while coal is a traditional form of energy, it will be utilized in the proposed plant in a number of unique ways.

Primarily, the plant will emit approximately 80 percent fewer toxins than the average coal plant in Michigan, and that is if it just burned coal alone.

The plant also plans to utilize up to 20 percent biomass in its kilns. Bradstreet said biomass does not really have a downside and it is carbon neutral, making it a much cleaner fuel to burn in the kilns.

“All things being equal, environmentally this is pretty creative,” he said.

Dulzo is not against halting the production of all coal plants until they stop emitting carbon dioxide, adding that regulation of carbon dioxide is coming.

“I think that (getting rid of all coal plants) is a very realistic long-term goal,” he said.

He cited all the emerging technologies available and suggested that focusing on those technologies and getting them up and running as soon as possible would be a better use of time and money than the creation of more coal plants.

Not only are alternative energy sources better for the environment, but experts agree they also could have long-term economic benefits for Michigan.

Lee Shirey, Target Alpena’s chief economic development officer, said the first step toward economic development in alternative energy is the establishment of an alternative energy portfolio at the state level.

What that portfolio would do is require all energy providers in the state to provide a certain percentage of their power from renewable energy sources, such as wind or solar. Shirey said this will bring more alternative energy into the area and create more jobs.

“A lot of new technologies are kind of waiting to jump into Michigan. Once the portfolio is put in place, there is going to be a definite need,” he said.

Shirey and Dulzo both said the portfolio has been successful in other states, not just in increasing use of alternative energy, but also in increasing jobs.

Various companies in Alpena are finding ways to introduce new ways to power their facilities while getting away from the use of fossil fuels.

Lloyd Springer of DPI said energy cost are projected to be 35 percent of the expenses for the plant this year.

Historically, DPI has used coal, purchased electricity and natural gas to power the plant. Recently, the company has installed equipment that not only makes it more environmentally friendly, but allows it to use waste wood and chips to replace some of its fossil fuel use.

Bradstreet agrees for the need to look into alternative energy sources and said Wolverine is looking for ways to position itself in the new renewable energy field.

“If we can gear our community toward alternative energies, it will not only help the environment, but it will reduce our demand for petroleum in the middle east,” Shirey said.

Janelle Packer can be reached via e-mail at jpacker@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5695.

Fact Box

Timeline of the Wolverine Clean Energy Venture in Rogers City
? June, 2006 — applied for special use permit for coal-based power plant in Rogers City
? October, 2007 — submitted application for air quality permit with Michigan Department of Environmental Quality
? March, 2008 — applied for amendment to special use permit to burn biomass
? 2009 — Wolverine hopes to break ground on proposed plant
? 2013 — Wolverine anticipates the plant to be up and running

 
 

 

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