Investing in an “All of the Above” Energy Strategy

Posted by on November 6, 2023

Electricity is essential to our way of life. When we flip a switch, we expect the light will turn on. That our phones will reliably charge each night. And that our workplaces will function so we can make a living. Ensuring that electricity is affordable, and reliable is a cornerstone of modern-day economic prosperity.

Because of that, we’ve been following closely as the state legislature discusses energy policy. Through the LSCP’s work with Marquette County Ambassadors – and our role as an advocate for economic prosperity – the LSCP has been following a series of bills aimed at mandating a 100% clean energy generation portfolio by 2040. Introduced earlier this year, the bills moved rapidly through the legislative process this past month, culminating in Senate and House votes narrowly passing the bills. Through advocacy efforts, many changes were introduced to address unintended consequences in the initial drafts, including language that could have led to the closure of the largest tax-paying entity in Baraga County. Other changes extended the timeline for achieving 100% clean energy generation and provided some flexibility in the event of technological or financial challenges.

While we are appreciative of those changes, concerns remain, in particular around cost and reliability. The recent local transition made to natural gas following the closure of the Presque Isle Power Plant is still fresh in many of our minds. What most don’t realize: in the final years of the PIPP’s operation, Upper Peninsula customers were paying an additional $8,000,000 a month to subsidize its operation. When the Internal Combustion Engine (RISE) natural gas plant came online in 2019 to replace PIPP, it reduced emissions by 86% and made our grid more stable. Marquette Board of Light and Power also invested heavily in cleaner natural gas to the tune of more than $50,000,000. We have more than 15 years left of payments on these investments.

Under the legislation as passed by the House, Upper Peninsula residents, and businesses will be on the hook to cover not only that debt but also the debt that will be needed to make even more upgrades to the system. Federal funds encouraging the transition to clean energy may play a role in helping mitigate some of those investments, but there is no guarantee. Renewable energy credit purchases required to meet the renewable energy credit goals will add even more costs. A last-minute amendment to one of the bills requires a study to determine the unique needs of the Upper Peninsula; a step towards acknowledgment of the unique needs, but leaves our region in limbo as to the long-term cost.

Recent shifts away from two major coal power plants were a major step in the right direction. For example, UPPCO’s reliance on coal-generated power is 15% less than the regional average, in large part due to its past investments in hydroelectric power. When the Marquette BLP moved to natural gas, it reduced its emissions by 90% and reduced landfilled ash by 17,000 tons annually. Combined with other natural gas and solar investments, the needle is moving.

Clean energy is a highly-valued objective that many individuals aspire to achieve and enjoys widespread policy support. Many businesses have declared environmental goals related to clean energy. We are also seeing clean energy investments happen across the region. But with fewer people to spread new costs across, we should applaud the progress that has been made and move at a reasonable pace toward these goals. We’ll watch the development of the Upper Peninsula study carefully and continue to fight for a diverse, affordable, and reliable energy portfolio to ensure economic prosperity.