Separating the Basins & Jean Klock Park

  • The report outlines three possible scenarios for physical separation of the Great Lakes basin and the Mississippi River system. (Graphic courtesy of Great Lakes Commission)

Asian carp have been making their way up the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers toward the Great Lakes for decades.

A coalition of U.S. and Canadian mayors says the solution is to physically separate the Great Lakes basin from the Mississippi River system forever. In other words… they want to completely stop the flow of water between the two systems to permanently block carp from swimming up into Lake Michigan… and stop any kind of invaders from moving between the basins.

A new report out today outlines how that massive separation might happen.

Tim Eder is the executive director of the Great Lakes Commission. His group put out the report, along with the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative. The report identifies three different places on the Chicago waterway system where a physical separation could be put in place.

“It’s just putting some sheet piling, some metal and earth and concrete in the river to make a dam, basically.”

But the manmade system of canals in the Chicago area has been in place for a century. Eder says there are a lot of people who depend on the waterway system as it is now.

“The river in Chicago now serves some really important purposes for managing floodwater, for dealing with wastewater, and for transportation. Commercial transportation depends on that waterway, so our options propose solutions to maintain and even enhance all of those existing important uses of the waterway.”

Physical separation would not be cheap. The report estimates the different options could cost between three billion and 9.5 billion dollars.

Tim Eder says construction of a barrier is at least ten years away. Some scientists worry Asian carp could be established in Lake Michigan by then.

Read the report: Restoring the Natural Divide


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This is the Environment Report.

A legal battle over a golf course built partially on dune land in Benton Harbor might have ended this month. Lindsey Smith reports a ruling handed down by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals comes four years after the first lawsuit was filed:

90 acres of land along the Lake Michigan shore were donated nearly a century ago to the City of Benton Harbor for public recreation. It’s called Jean Klock Park. In 2008, city leaders agreed to lease 22 acres of Jean Klock Park to a non-profit developer known as Harbor Shores. The developer converted the land into 3 holes of a Jack Nicklaus golf course.

A group of citizens filed a federal lawsuit claiming environmental rules were violated when the golf course was built. They believe the violations are egregious enough that the lease should be renegotiated or terminated.

Terry Lodge represents the group of citizens who brought the federal lawsuit. He notes that lease between the city and Harbor Shores acknowledges the possibility that the course could be restored to natural dunes and beaches.

“It says that if the deal ever falls through or Harbor Shores runs out of money or something that they will restore the park to and I don’t know how they would exactly do this but they would restore the park to what it formerly was.”

But the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling last week that said because the golf course is already built the judges cannot really do anything about it.

Jeff Noel is President of Harbor Shores.

“At every level of the court system, the courts have overwhelmingly ruled in our favor and I hope that helps make people feel better that we have adhered to a fair open and honest legal system to review what has been done in the past.”

Noel says the golf course and surrounding housing development will provide a long-term economic boost to a city that’s desperate for jobs.

The group could appeal the federal ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. They have less than two months to make a decision.

For the Environment Report, I’m Lindsey Smith.

Building Wind Turbines & Power Line Fight

  • A display of a renewable energy project in front of a photo of a Tiara Yacht hanging on the wall at the company's facility in Holland. (Photo by Lindsey Smith/Michigan Radio)

When President Obama talked to the nation this week, he pointed out a guy from Michigan in the audience.

“When Bryan Ritterby was laid off from his job making furniture, he said he worried at 55, no one would give him a second chance. But he found work at Energetx a wind turbine manufacturer in Michigan. Before the recession the factory only made luxury yachts. Today it’s hiring workers like Bryan who said I’m proud to be working in the industry of the future.”

Last spring, Energetx Composites expected to increase its workforce from 40 employees to 300 sometime in 2012. We wanted to check in to see how things are going.

Chris Idema works in business development for the Holland-based company.

“You know, I can’t really comment on a specific number but we are definitely in growth mode right now, we are hiring and we expect to do so over the next several months.”

He says the biggest obstacle to his company’s growth is uncertainty in the market. Idema points to a federal tax credit that he says gives the wind industry some stability. That credit expires at the end of this year. It’s not clear what Congress will do about it.

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This is the Environment Report.

There’s a fight brewing about whether Michigan’s Upper Peninsula needs two new power lines. The high voltage lines would cut through northern woodlands to bring electricity from Wisconsin to the U.P. Energy companies say the single existing line is maxed out. But, as Bob Allen reports, citizen groups say the power companies are jumping the gun:

An announcement by WE Energies of Milwaukee sparked this debate last fall. The company said it would phase out an old coal burning power plant in Marquette over the next five years. To keep the plant going would mean investing millions in new pollution controls.

People in the U.P. were worried about where their power would come from, and they were upset about the prospect of losing 170 jobs at the Presque Isle power plant.

WE Energies favors building new power lines to send electricity from Wisconsin to the U.P. That plan was put on a fast track for regulatory approval.

But then a couple of weeks ago, WE Energies and Wolverine Power based in northern lower Michigan announced a joint venture.

They’re now looking at upgrading the plant in Marquette to meet stricter pollution rules.

Brian Manthey of WE Energies says the decision hasn’t been made yet whether to keep the coal plant going. But he says that doesn’t really affect the plan for new transmission lines.

“With or without the future of the Presque Isle power plant being considered transmission is desperately needed in that area. And there does need to be transmission upgrades.”

But citizen groups say: not so fast.

New power lines would cut a swath for more than a hundred miles through northern forests, and they’d be expensive.

Howard Lerner with the Environmental Law and Policy Center says that decision ought to be carefully weighed, not rushed.

And he says at this point new transmission lines are overkill.

“If WE Energies and Wolverine Power Cooperative do the right thing and retrofit the plant up at Presque Isle in Marquette with modern pollution control equipment then don’t also at the same time try to force consumers to pay for a billion dollars of new transmission lines.”

WE Energies retrofitted a similar coal plant in Wisconsin at a cost of $900 million.

A decision by the Board that oversees transmission lines is expected in June.

Then the plan would need approval from utility regulators in Wisconsin and Michigan.

For the Environment Report, I’m Bob Allen.

Breaking Through to Climate Change Skeptics

  • A polar bear on melting ice. (Photo courtesy of Joel Garlich-Miller, USFWS)

Anthony Leiserowitz directs the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. He says the vast majority of scientists agree that climate change is real. It’s mostly caused by people. And it’s serious.

“We know through multiple studies that over 95% of scientists agree about this.”

But… he says his studies and others show the number of Americans who believe climate change is happening has declined.

Leiserowitz says there are a lot of reasons for that. A tough economy… declining media coverage…

“Then there’s actually been a very active campaign to discredit the science to put out disinformation about the science. And that really kicked into gear in 2008 and 2009 because Congress was about to pass climate legislation. Forces that are perfectly happy with the status quo worked very, very hard to stop that effort and they were successful.”

So as a result of these factors and others… he says many Americans are confused about what to believe… or downright skeptical.

This was the topic of a conference put on by the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise and the Union of Concerned Scientists at the University of Michigan last week. There were social scientists and climate scientists, religious leaders and members of the business community. They were here to talk about how the public climate change debate has become more about personal values and how you see the world than about the science.

Reverend Richard Cizik is the president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good. He says a decade ago… he just didn’t believe climate change was happening.

“I was dismissive and ridiculed, like millions of others did, Al Gore and his book Earth in the Balance. So I was a skeptic, a denial-ist, a scoffer if you will. But I changed.”

He says he changed his mind when he went to a conference at Oxford University and learned about the science.

“It was simply an exposure for the very first time to the facts of climate change and the reality which is that the earth will change as a result forever in ways we don’t even fully comprehend today.”

But Reverend Cizik says when he talks to young Evangelicals… he doesn’t use science as a starting point.

“My message really isn’t to persuade anybody of the science of climate change which I do believe. It’s rather to persuade them of their own biblical responsibility – if they call themselves a believer. There’s no way you can love God and your neighbor if you’re polluting his or her air.”

This idea… that you can’t talk to all Americans with the same message on climate change… was a main take-home message of the conference this past week.

Bob Inglis is a former Congressman from South Carolina. He describes himself as a conservative Republican.

He says for his first six years in Congress, he was an ardent denier of climate change. He was out of Congress for a while. Then he got re-elected.

“When I got back to Congress, I had the opportunity to be on the Science Committee and I went to Antarctica twice actually, and in those visits, saw the evidence. That evidence persuaded me and so the result is I decided I really needed to act and I needed to be involved.”

But he says this position cost him his job.

“The most enduring heresy I committed against the Republican orthodoxy was saying climate change is real and let’s do something about it. That actually got me in the most hot water of anything I did, and I would say it’s the largest reason I lost the primary in June 2010.”

Lately, Bob Inglis has been going around, talking to groups like the College Republicans. He says he’s trying to persuade them that there are conservative solutions to our climate problems.

That’s the Environment Report for today. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Environment Nearly Absent From State of the State

  • Michigan Governor Rick Snyder.

In his second State of the State address, Governor Rick Snyder did not spend a lot of time talking about the environment. But he did say that agriculture, tourism, mining and the timber industry are key to the state’s future.

He also talked about his push to overhaul the state’s regulatory system.

“So far we’ve rescinded nearly 400 obsolete, confusing and burdensome regulations.”

Now… those 400 regulations are not all environmental. But Governor Snyder did call out one set of rules that was on the books.

“The Department of Environmental Quality has 28 separate requirements for outhouses, including a requirement that the seat not be left up.” (laughter)

That was the best punch line of the evening. But of course, there’s a serious undertone to the Governor’s plans for overhauling the way the state regulates businesses.

Jason Geer is with the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. He says the Chamber would like to see some limits on the ability of state agencies to make new rules.

“You know, put some limits on how those rules come out. Just to make sure the business community has a little bit of a bigger seat at the table on how those rules come out at the end of the day.”

Geer says he’d like to see state agencies speed up the process of issuing environmental permits.

James Clift is the policy director of the Michigan Environmental Council. He’s been part of a committee advising the Governor on changes to state regulations.

“Some regulation is needed to protect public health and the environment – make sure we’re moving forward, but making sure that it’s done in an area that’s smart and gets solutions to some of the problems we see out there.”

Clift says his committee has submitted a report to the Governor… so we’ll be hearing about those regulatory changes any day now.

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This is the Environment Report.

Consumers Energy is wrapping up the initial phase of its first wind farm. Construction of the 100 mega-watt farm began last fall. Lindsey Smith reports Consumers plans to have the wind farm operating by the end of this year:

The project is known as the Lake Winds Energy Park. Since construction began last fall, workers have built about half of the large bases for 58 utility sized wind turbines.

Dennis Marvin is a spokesman for the New Generation Group at Consumers Energy. He says Lake Winds Energy Park is not really a park… the project spans 30 square miles in rural Mason County…about 90 miles north of Grand Rapids.

“Some of the wind projects that you might see on television or on the web where all the turbines line up next to each other – it doesn’t work that way.”

Marvin says the area has enough wind to support a farm. But he says the availability of transmission lines there made all the difference in choosing that location. Transmission lines can get the power from turbines into the electrical grid.

“The best wind in Michigan is in the thumb area and that’s why most of the wind development is occurring in the thumb but what they lack is adequate transmission capacity to support all the wind development.”

Consumers is building an even bigger wind farm in the thumb area. That wind farm is supposed to come online in three years. And Consumers is planning a third wind farm too – they plan to have that one up and running in ten years.

Meanwhile, a court battle over the Lake Winds Energy Park is not over. Earlier this month a Mason County Circuit Court judge heard arguments in a case filed against Consumers Energy and Mason County.

A group of citizens claim there wasn’t enough notice to the public about the project. They also raise legal concerns about special zoning permits authorizing the wind farm.

It’s unclear when the judge will rule in the case. The group has filed an injunction to stop construction of the farm…but that decision is also pending.

For the Environment Report, I’m Lindsey Smith.

Meanwhile, in northern Michigan, Duke Energy says it’s scrapping its plans for a wind farm in Benzie and Manistee counties. The company says it doesn’t have a buyer for the electricity.

That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Asian Carp and Lake Erie & an Almost Snow-Free Winter

  • A bighead carp at the Shedd Aquarium (perhaps a face only its mother could love). (Photo by Rebecca Williams)

Asian carp have been making their way up the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers toward the Great Lakes for decades. Bighead and silver carp are the species people are the most concerned about.

There’s been a lot of focus on keeping carp out of Lake Michigan.

But a new study finds carp might do well in Lake Erie and some of the rivers that feed the lake.

Patrick Kocovsky is a research fishery biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. He says it’s believed Asian carp need specific conditions to make babies.

“What’s currently believed is Asian carp require some kind of flood event in a tributary.”

He says the carp need just the right temperature… a river that’s flowing fast enough and a stretch of river long enough to reproduce.

Kocovsky and his team studied the major tributaries of Lake Erie. They found that the Maumee River is highly suitable for Asian carp to lay eggs.

The researchers found the Sandusky and Grand Rivers to be moderately suitable for carp.

Patrick Kocovsky says if carp can get into Lake Erie, the western side of the lake is likely to be the most hospitable.

Bighead and silver carp eat plankton. Kocovsky says this could be bad news for other fish that eat plankton.

“The primary concern is if Asian carp become established in Lake Erie, they will exert pressure on the plankton food source and possibly have detrimental effects on other planktivores and that might cascade through the entire food web.”

And that could end up hurting the popular sportfish in Lake Erie – walleye and yellow perch.

There is some debate among scientists over how big of an impact Asian carp might have on the Great Lakes.

“I would agree there is still debate but more and more, I think people are coming to believe that Asian carp do pose a threat and that we should be concerned.”

But he says there’s not nearly as much attention on keeping carp out of Lake Erie as there is on keeping them out of Lake Michigan.

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This is the Environment Report.

The arrival of winter in Michigan is not supposed to last long. The cold snap earlier this week is expected to give way early next week to temperatures back in the forties. The lack of snow is taking a toll on some parts of the state’s tourism economy. Peter Payette reports:

Forecaster Mike Boguth says northern Michigan might set a record this year for the least amount of snowfall ever. Boguth works at the National Weather Service office in Gaylord. He says what little snow there is now could melt next week when temperatures rise.

“We don’t see any signs of cold weather coming back after we get by this week.”

Most ski resorts up north opened in December. That’s because nighttime temperatures have been cold enough to make snow.

But for businesses that depend on snowmobile traffic this time of year, things couldn’t be much worse. They’ve had just one weekend of business all winter. That was this past weekend which included the Martin Luther King holiday.

Dave Ramsey owns Beaver Creek Resort near Gaylord. He says just enough snow fell late last week to open the trails.

Still, more than half his cabins were empty this weekend when he would usually have a waiting list.

“Every hotel in Gaylord every motel and little cabin cluster will just about fill to capacity on every major holiday if we have good snow.”

The weather could also create problems for the North America Vasa. The cross-country ski race near Traverse City could draw 1,000 racers and the second weekend in February.

The VASA trail has three inches of base but no snow-making capacity.

For the Environment Report, I’m Peter Payette.

And that’s the Environment Report for today. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Palisades Hearing & Dow’s Toxic Wastes

  • The Palisades nuclear power plant in Van Buren County, Michigan. (Photo courtesy of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission)

Officials from the company that operates the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant near South Haven appeared in front of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Wednesday. The company is hoping to avoid getting another safety violation…it was issued one already this month. Lindsey Smith listened in on the hearing:

The hearing was about two separate incidents at the plant last year. The more serious was a week-long shut-down of the power plant last September. It went offline because of an electrical outage at the plant that happened because a worker didn’t follow proper procedures during routine maintenance.
David Hamilton is General Manager of Plant Operations. He says the company, Entergy Corporation, “concurs” with the NRC’s findings.

“We’ve lost the trust of our neighbors. We’ve lost the trust of our corporation and we’re going to fix that.”

But company officials don’t think the incident was as much of a risk as the NRC does. The NRC says the event was of “substantial safety significance.”
The NRC will issue their final report within 60 days.

For the Environment Report, I’m Lindsey Smith.

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This is the Environment Report.

The Dow Chemical Company is the second-largest producer of toxic chemical waste in the nation. That’s according to a new report by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The report shows that Dow produced more than 600 million pounds of toxic chemical waste in the reporting year 2010.

Ben Morlock is a spokesperson for Dow.

Morlock says 97 % of that toxic chemical waste was treated, recycled or reused.

“We have on-site wastewater treatment plants, we have air pollution control equipment that incinerates contaminants so they’re not released into the air, we have equipment used in our manufacturing processes that captures chemicals and recycles them back into the process for reuse.”

He says the rest of that waste – the remaining three percent – was disposed of in accordance with the company’s state and federal permits.

“It is safe to say that most of that three percent is handled through land disposal, so for instance, it might go to a licensed secured landfill that is equipped to properly handle certain types of waste. So, I can tell you we audit the facilities we use for disposal and we make sure our waste is being handled properly if it leaves the site.”

He says Dow’s ranking on the EPA list reflects the size of the company. Dow is the nation’s largest chemical manufacturer.

The EPA’s 2010 Toxics Release Inventory National Analysis

An in-depth Environment Report series on Dow & dioxin cleanup delays


The EPA’s report analyzes data from the Toxics Release Inventory. Industries in certain sectors are required by federal law to report their toxic chemical releases each year. This includes chemical manufacturers, metal mining, electric power companies and hazardous waste treatment.

The 2010 report says close to 4 billion pounds of toxic chemicals were released into the environment nationwide. This is a 16 percent increase from 2009. The EPA says this increase is mainly due to changes in the metal mining industry.

The EPA report notes that the amount of chemicals released to the land, air and water are self-reported by companies. And the report says these data are often estimates.

Michelle Hurd Riddick is with the Lone Tree Council. It’s an environmental advocacy group based in Saginaw. She says every year, she keeps tabs on what Dow reports to the EPA.

“EPA relies on self-reporting from corporations and I think that’s just inherently problematic that you are relying on the polluter to report to you.”

The EPA did not make anyone available for a recorded interview.

Dow maintains that they handle all their toxic waste very carefully. But Michelle Hurd Riddick points out the company hasn’t always done so.

“Dow is in fact responsible for one of the worst dioxin contaminations in the nation here in the Saginaw Bay watershed.”

Dow, the EPA and the state of Michigan have wrestled over the cleanup of that dioxin pollution for more than 30 years.

I’m Rebecca Williams.

Better Fuel Economy: Price of Admission at Auto Show

  • Just about every automaker has an advanced vehicle on display. Here's a "fuel cell electric" Hyundai Tuscon (photo by Mark Brush).

There was a time when fuel economy wasn’t all that important to the Big Three automakers. But now they say fuel economy has to be a major part of their new designs.

Reid Bigland heads up the Dodge brand for Chrysler. Here’s what he had to say during yesterday’s unveiling of the new, 40 mile per gallon, Dodge Dart:

“Look, the days of sacrificing horsepower for fuel economy, and vice versa, are long gone. Today you have to have both, and we do.”

Michigan Radio’s Mark Brush is at the North American International Auto Show and he joins me now. So Mark, what kind of cars are you seeing?

MB: The last time I was at the Auto Show, Rebecca, was around ten years ago – back then – the so-called “green” fuel efficient cars were off in a corner of the auto show – they weren’t taken too seriously.

There was one notorious stunt back in 1992 at the Auto Show. That’s when then Chrysler chief Bob Lutz smashed a Jeep Grand Cherokee through a window at the Cobo Center. So fuel efficiency wasn’t taken too seriously.

But now, just about every automaker is displaying some type of fuel efficient car.

RW: So what’s behind these changes?

MB: Well, I caught up with Gloria Berquist of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and I asked her that question.

“The world has changed, and we all see what a precious resource oil is, and we all see the importance of enhancing our energy security, and so car companies have responded by developing more fuel efficient technologies.”

Another big reason for the change – increased fuel efficiency standards from the federal government.

These standards had remained unchanged since 1990 for passenger cars.

They’ve just gotten bumped up for the 2011 model and the Obama Administration plans to keep bumping them up until automakers reach an average of 54 mpg by 2025.

RW: One of the problems automakers have had with fuel economy standards is they were facing the potential of three different standards…

MB: Right – one from California and many other states, one from the Environmental Protection Agency and yet another from the Department of Transportation.

So now this new proposed federal standard is one uniform standard and automakers like that.

That’s what EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told me at the auto show:
“I have no doubt as an engineer myself, that Detroit will meet that challenge and exceed it. And we are now building and designing cars that the world wants to buy.”

RW: So under the most recent proposed standard, the fleet-wide average has to come in around 54 mpg by 2025 – that’s a big increase – so what kind of cars are we going to be driving 10 or 15 years from now?


I’d assumed that they would all have to be electric or hybrids to meet these tough new standards, but when I asked David Friedman of the Union of Concerned Scientists this question – he said gas engines will definitely still be around.

“Under these new standards, consumers will be able to choose cars of the
same size, the same performance and the same or even better safety, than
they have today. The main difference they’ll notice is they’ll be spending
thousands of dollars less on gasoline.”

And Friedman says to be more efficient, companies won’t have to use just the sexy technologies like hybrid or electric engines… but they’re things like better transmissions… more efficient gas engines, and better tires.

But Gloria Berquist of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers thinks a little differently – she thinks that hybrids and electric vehicles will have to be a big part of the mix to meet the 54 miles per gallon standard.

So in her mind, the big challenge will be will people buy these cars in the future.

RW: Well, they’re still pretty expensive.

MB: Yeah, that’s true.

RW: Thanks Mark.

MB: You’re welcome.

That’s Michigan Radio’s Mark Brush at the Detroit Auto Show.

That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Violation Notice for Palisades Nuclear Plant

  • The Palisades nuclear power plant in Van Buren County, Michigan. (Photo courtesy of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission)

The federal government issues a violation for a safety issue at the Palisades nuclear power plant…

This is the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

The Palisades plant is six miles south of South Haven on the shore of Lake Michigan.

The plant had five unplanned shutdowns last year. Four of those were unplanned reactor shutdowns. The fifth was a problem with the plant’s water pumps that did not affect the reactor. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has just issued a violation notice to the company that owns the Palisades plant for a separate incident that happened in May.

Michigan Radio’s Lindsey Smith has been following this and she joins me now. Lindsey, why did the agency issue this violation?

LS: It gets a little technical. A water pump at the plant failed. And regulators concluded that’s because one of the components was lubricated when it shouldn’t have been.

RW: So how serious is this?

LS: The NRC says this violation is of low to moderate significance. BUT… there’s a regulatory hearing expected next week to address two additional safety issues – one of which is what the NRC calls substantial safety significance.

That’s a much bigger deal than the one finalized this week. In that case the plant was offline for about a week last September because of a power outage. An electric circuit at the plant broke when a worker was doing routine maintenance. The worker did not follow procedures for doing the work. When I talked to NRC spokeswoman Viktoria Mitlyng in November she said the worker had actually gotten permission from his managers not to follow procedures.

Entergy Nuclear Operations owns the Palisades plant. Mark Savage is a spokesperson. He admits there were some problems that led to the incidents in May and September.

“The procedures themselves did not specify: do this, do this, do this. There was obviously a lack of procedural clarity.”

Savage says the company is always reviewing those procedures.

But he says the workers are also expected to bring problems to the attention of their supervisors.

Remember – regulators said with that power failure back in September, a worker had asked his manager about the procedures, but managers told the worker he could go ahead with the work anyway.

RW: So in this regulatory hearing that’s coming up, the company will have a chance to challenge the NRC on its investigation. What happens if the NRC decides that electrical outage was a significant safety concern?

LS: Well, because of the water pump problem in May, the NRC will be doing some additional oversight, anyway. If the agency finds bigger problems from the power failure in September, that would mean significantly more federal oversight at Palisades.

If that happens, the Palisades plant would be one of only three plants in the country with such a serious safety concern on its record.

RW: The Palisades plant is more than 40 years old. The license was renewed until 2031. We’ve heard about all these problems last year. What does the federal government say about the safety of this plant?

LS: Right now, NRC spokeswoman Viktoria Mitlyng says the plant is operating safely.

“None of these issues resulted in any kind of incident that undermined the stability of the plant or had an impact on plant workers. It’s just that the threshold for identifying issues is very low because we want to make sure equipment is functioning properly at all times because there’s a very small margin of error for a nuclear power plant.”

And power plant operators say the plant is operating fine, too. But with all of these little things that have been coming up this past year, it’s definitely been a rocky year for Palisades and the federal government will definitely be keeping a closer eye on the plant this year, too.

RW: Okay, thanks, Lindsey.

LS: Thanks.

Lindsey Smith is Michigan Radio’s West Michigan reporter.

That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Michigan Homeowners Improve on Energy Efficiency

  • The team installs the blower door test. (Photo by Meg Cramer)

It’s cold outside… and maybe inside, if your house isn’t properly insulated. Home energy efficiency is a big issue and a new study gives Michigan kudos for making it a priority, as Tanya Ott reports:

Randy Rice has lived in his Southgate, Michigan house for 13 years. He’s lived there – and often shivers there…

“Certainly believe that the air was leaking upstairs. We could feel some breezes. I just saw dollars flying out the window.”

Rice replaced the windows five years ago and it helped… but he still worries about leaks around the windows. So he called in…

“Amanda Godward, with Ecotelligent Homes. I’m the owner and energy auditor.”

Godward’s first step is to interview customers like Randy Rice. She takes house measurements, checks out insulations in the attic and windows. Then…. she goes all high tech with the “thermal infrared scan.”

“We use this to find flaws in the insulation, in the walls, without having to do any destructive testing.”

She turns on a fan that pulls all of the air out of the room. It creates a vacuum so cold air from the outside is pulled inside. She can see, on a scanner, all the little cracks and holes where air is sneaking in.

“… Around windows, around light fixtures. And by not sealing those air leaks you’re allowing your house to have drafts, which causes it to be uncomfortable, but also letting the air that you paid to heat in the winter time literally fly out through those leaks.”

Godward did an initial energy audit on Randy Rice’s home a while back. She suggested changes like heavier insulation in the attic, caulking light fixtures and windows, and replacing weather stripping. She’s back at the house today to see if it made a difference.

An energy calculator


“Yellow is hot and purple is cold so we’re looking for areas that are purple because that’s where the cold air from outside is being drawn into the warm house.”

When all’s said and done, Godward announces that the air leakage is reduced by 15 percent. For Randy Rice – that translates to about $150 in savings each year.

“In four and a half years I should actually be saving money and able to pay off what I’ve invested today.”

Efforts like this by homeowners and other measures snagged Michigan top honors as most improved state on the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy scorecard for 2011. Michigan jumped 10 spots in the rankings. Michael Shiortino is the council’s senior research analyst.

“Like any investment there’s an upfront cost and consumers basically have to weigh what types of investments they want to make. Insulation is an investment. You’re going to get the payback though. And I think what energy efficiency has proven is it’s a very reliable payback. You’re going to get your payback after a certain length of time.”

Sciortino also points to a 2008 Michigan law that requires utilities to meet an energy efficiency savings goal of one percent of their total sales per year. The Michigan Public Service Commission estimates that for every dollar utility companies spend on energy efficiency programs, customers save three dollars in avoided energy costs

You can save too. Energy auditor Amanda Godward says the easiest fixes include caulking windows, putting those little foam gaskets around your electrical outlets and switching to compact fluorescent lights. That, alone, can save up to $250 a year.

For the Environment Reports, I’m Tanya Ott.

Special thanks to Meg Cramer for her help with this story.