Summer heat and storms came early this week to southeastern Michigan, and Michigan’s post-COVID-19 economy is heating up.
In a mild taste of what is due this summer, more than 28,000 DTE customers in metro Detroit lost power Wednesday afternoon after a brief but stormy rainstorm.
Link the likelihood of more damaging storms in the future to the annual summer rise in air conditioning and economic renewable energy needs. Next, add new energy uses starting with electric vehicles. Finally, consider the growing list of old power plants that Michigan utilities have closed.
The combination, here and in other states, has led to a heated debate among insiders this spring, which is vital to all of Michigan — and to residents of 14 other Midwest states as well as one Canadian province. The debate is over whether Michigan and the rest of this sprawling central part of the continent are at risk of power shortages and blackouts this summer — or not.
That debate broke out into the open this week when DTE’s chief operating officer for electric power sent an email Tuesday to 1.6 million of its home and business customers. in e-mail, DTE Electric COO Trevor Lauer unequivocally told customers: “We don’t anticipate any blackouts or any issues with generating the electricity you need to live your life all summer. …I can’t stress enough that we don’t anticipate a problem for you or our other customers in Southeast Michigan this summer.”
Lauer’s words were meant to dispel the fear caused by the other side of the debate. Insisting the possibility of large-scale declines is a little-known but critically important nonprofit organization called MISO – the Mid-Continent Autonomous System Operator. MISO may be obscure outside of electric power circles, but its 1,100 employees oversee much of the continent’s electric grid, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Upper Peninsula and Manitoba, Canada.
MISO’s assessment of this summer’s potential energy needs looks ominous. Those predictably increased summer needs, which were placed above the grid’s ability to distribute power, prompted the CEO of MISO to say in a recent report: “The reality for regions that do not have enough generation to cover their load, in addition to their required reserves, is that they will increase the risk of outages.” temporary and controlled conditions to maintain the reliability of the system.”
Come July and August, if MISO is true, it could mean that some Michiganders with what’s called “Voluntary Service County” would have to stay without air conditioning for the hours that, say, people in Mississippi or Minnesota need Michigan electricity. It could also mean that utilities in Michigan will voluntarily ask their customers to turn up the heat during air conditioning to, say, 75 degrees or more.
Both Michigan’s large electrical utilities, Detroit-based DTE and Jackson-based Consumer Energy, say they can easily handle the situation without causing blackouts across Michigan. Joining them in this aspect of the debate is the Michigan Public Service Commission, the government agency that regulates electric utilities. In rare unison, everyone says Michigan generates more than enough electricity for all Michiganders, and so much more in fact that Michigan’s large utilities are willing to supply them with additional power, called “reserves,” if another state is short.
more:Wednesday’s storm left thousands without power in Wayne County
Worst case scenario DTE? If there is a power shortage elsewhere in the MISO region this summer, DTE will help in three ways: sending excess power from DTE back to the grid to share with other nations; requiring customers with intermittent voluntary counters, generally associated with air conditioning, to accept temporary shutdowns of their air conditioning; And issuing a “public appeal as a last resort to ask our customers to lower their thermostats a few degrees or turn off any lights or appliances they are not using,” the email said Lauer.
It actually means turn above their thermostats while the air conditioners are running. But his point is clear. On Wednesday, DTE was set to begin the launch of its giant new Blue Water Energy Center in St. Clair County, which is said to be the country’s newest and most energy-efficient natural gas plant. With Bluewater fully operational, DTE will decommission two large plants – its aging St Clair and Trenton coal-fired plants. The tool said that wouldn’t be a problem this summer.
DTE will replace the generation capacity of the two old plants with the higher production of the new Blue Water plant, along with increased power from wind and solar generation, and through efficiency improvements throughout its system as well as award-winning demand response programs, a DTE spokeswoman said in an email.
Demand response programs are educational efforts that encourage consumers and businesses to use less electricity, despite new technology enticing society to use more. In early May, the US Environmental Protection Agency gave DTE its “Partner of the Year” award for programs that urge consumers to buy energy-efficient appliances, such as trading old refrigerators for new ones; Building improvements to the above code will save energy, such as installing new windows and improving weather conditions around the doors.
Elsewhere in Michigan, Consumer Energy reiterated DTE’s reaction to the MISO warning. Company officials in Jackson sent this statement: “Consumer Energy is gearing up for this summer, and we are confident we have a reliable source of energy to serve our customers. Our comprehensive, long-term planning ensures there is enough energy to serve all of our customers at all times of the day, during every day of the year. These plans are valued conservatively. We are always building an additional power cushion to account for high customer usage (such as electric vehicles) and unknowns including weather events.”
Certainly, the world of electric utilities is undergoing a revolutionary change. This landscape has changed dramatically after enjoying decades of the status quo. For years, Michigan has used coal or nuclear fuel to generate electricity and haul fossil-fuel vehicles, through an age happily ignorant of climate change. Now, as the MISO acknowledged, managing power flows from state to state has never been more difficult.
A spokesperson for MISO in Little Rock, Arkansas, said the nonprofit did not back down from its warning. But he also said Michigan has historically been in a safe place. In a statement sent Wednesday to Free Press, MISO spokesperson Brandon Morris said: “Temporary, coordinated blackouts are extremely rare and are a last emergency measure implemented to protect the electrical grid. MISO has never taken this step in Michigan.”
However, Morris reiterated the MISO CEO’s previous warning, albeit in less serious terms. From Missouri to Dakota to Michigan, MISO has found the public system to be lacking in capacity. Morris said the nonprofit’s early 2022 analysis of summer energy demands in various states highlighted “the potential need for emergency measures to maintain system balance as well as the need for greater reliance on imports and more flexibility in resources,” to provide a continuous flow of electricity Through the ‘uncertainty of severe weather’.
Dan Scripps, chair of the Michigan Public Service Commission, said the MISO’s warning, while technically justified, was unnecessarily alarming.
“I think MISO is right to highlight the growing risk of grid outage. Each region has met its legal requirements, but the regional transmission network needs updating. There is a bottleneck between Missouri and Arkansas that would prevent northern generating entities from helping the South if they need to,” Scripps said. To him, and vice versa, the problem has been piling up for years.
Here in Michigan, “We’re asking all of our energy providers to look four years into the future and show us that they have the ability to serve all of their customers. And we’ve been satisfied with their demonstrations of that. We think we have the number of reserves Michigan needs.”
“Honestly, I was appalled by some of MISO’s statements” which he said had “a sky-falling nature.” Yes, the system is “more at risk of a regional power shortage this summer, but there is no greater risk than usual within Michigan, Michigan’s top energy czar said.”
In terms of preventing local outages caused by high winds — like storms Wednesday shortly after noon that cut power to Grosse Pointe North High School and more than 1,000 customers in the surrounding neighborhood — DTE and Consumer Energy have accelerated pruning efforts Scripps added.
Although it’s too soon to be sure of success, “the anecdotal evidence is that where they cut down more trees, reliability is improved,” he said.
DTE and Consumers Energy have been late on this for a number of years (and) haven’t made a major system change overnight. I think we’re going in the right direction now, but we have to do more and we have to do it faster.”
Contact Bill Laitner: firstname.lastname@example.org
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