Looking ahead

HOUGHTON – The isolation of many communities in the Upper Peninsula can present problems as far as getting affordable energy is concerned, and that and other energy topics were the focus of the quarterly meeting of the Upper Peninsula Economic Development Alliance Friday at the Michigan Technological University Advanced Technology Development Center in Houghton.

Kim Stoker, executive director of the Western Upper Peninsula Planning & Development Region, said people involved with development in the U.P. have been discussing about the special needs of the U.P. for some time.

“We decided a long time ago on energy, transportation and communication,” he said.

Stoker said the cost of electricity is an issue for many residents in the U.P. There are 2,600 household customers with a particular power company behind on their utility bills.

Also involved with the meeting were the Central Upper Peninsula Planning & Development Regional Commission, and the Eastern Upper Peninsula Regional Planning & Development Commission.

The meeting Friday consisted of a teleconference from Lansing with Valerie M. Brader, deputy legal counsel and senior policy advisor to Gov. Rick Snyder. Brader spoke about the governor’s energy plans then answered questions for those attending the meeting in Houghton. After a meal break, there were panel discussions on affordable energy, the future of energy resources in the U.P., and alternative energy.

Brader said there are special challenges for affordable energy delivery in the U.P. related to topography and the isolation of some communities.

The governor’s energy plan includes affordability, reliability and protection of the environment, Brader said. Developing such a plan requires trying to decide what needs will be in the future, and that can present problems.

“We cannot predict the future with reliability,” she said.

Brader said Snyder’s energy plan includes expanding the use of renewables, including biofuels, which could benefit the forest industry in the U.P.

The cost of energy in Michigan is 6 percent higher than the average for the rest of the country, Brader said, and the governor wants to do something about bringing the cost down for residential and business customers.

Brader said in developing an energy plan, the governor wants to make sure environmental protections are in place, including reducing mercury, which predominantly comes from power plant emissions, reduce acid rain and reduce particulate emissions.

The governor wants whatever energy systems are developed for the state to be reliable, Brader said.

“We need to make sure we have enough reliability at all times,” she said.

Brader said it’s important for the distribution of electricity in the U.P. to find a way to keep operating the Presque Isle Power Plant in Marquette, which plant owner Wisconsin Electric Power Co. wants to sell.

Although the governor is considering alternative energy sources, in the near future large power plants such as PIPP are needed to provide power for the U.P.

It will cost between $250 million and $750 million to improve electricity transmission wires, Brader said, but it may be less expensive to build new plants.

“There are plenty of plants that cost a lot less than that,” she said. “We’re really focused on that.”

Snyder wants to implement the parts of his energy plan soon, Brader said. “The governor is ready this year to realize as many of these goals as possible,” she said.