SIDNEY TOWNSHIP – As counties in Michigan continue to see renewable energy projects spring up over time, the question continues to be asked – what about Montcalm County?
During Monday’s Legislative Update session at Montcalm Community College, Harmony Nowlin, the community services area manager at Consumers Energy, said in the years that have followed since a new Clean Energy Plan was established in 2016, renewable energy sources such as wind and solar farms are becoming more feasible to install or purchase, while the ways of relying on coal-powered plants are falling into the past.
That change in focus, as mandated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has resulted in severe changes to other counties in Michigan.
“Part of our plan includes closing all coal plants (in Michigan) by 2040,” Nowlin said. “We are working with communities, like Essexville in Bay County and Luna Pier in Monroe County, to try to provide some economic viability opportunities for them as we close a pretty effective taxpayer in their areas.”
The Whiting power plant in Lina Pier is expected to come down this year, while the Karn Generating Complex in Essexville is expected to close in 2023.
“Part of our plan is having renewable energy to replace those coal facilities,” Nowlin said. “We’ll still provide our natural gas generation, which is a lot of our baseload now. People ask, why are you closing those coal plants? Because it’s very, very costly to keep them in compliance with EPA requirements. We’ve kept them up to speed, but the plants are over 50 years old – our youngest is 57 years old – so we’re retiring them.”
While Montcalm County doesn’t have any coal plants within its jurisdiction, Nowlin said interest is beginning to come its way in the form of potential for renewable energy.
“Montcalm is becoming a hotspot for renewable energy,” she said. “We took over a project in the southwest corner of Gratiot County, and have started construction there. Our wind farm in Gratiot County is going to be at full construction next year with production starting in December.”
As that wind farm nears completion, Nowlin said inquiries have been made on property in neighboring southeastern Montcalm County.
“I know there is some additional activity that is going on, with some inquiries into Montcalm County,” she said. “Those injuries are to try to get a wind farm going, and then it can go a number of different ways – a utility could purchase it or purchase the power from it – but we have to go with the most cost-effective mechanism. The project as it stands right now does not bleed over into Montcalm County … though there is interest in southeast Montcalm County.”
Nowlin stressed that Consumers Energy is placing equal importance on solar energy.
“Relative to solar, we are going to be implementing a ton of solar. The point I want to make, wind energy used to not be so cost-effective, but it’s a lot more cost-effective now, and as that technology improves, you’re going to see more farms going in,” she said. “The same can be said of Solar, starting around the 2023 time frame.”
Lack of legislative update
Neither Rep. Jim Lower, R-Greenville, Rick Outman, R-Six Lakes, nor any representatives from their offices were present to provide a legislative update Monday.
In attendance from U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s office was regional manager Mary Judnich, who touched on a number of topics, from mental health care to agriculture.
“Sen. Stabenow is working on the Excellence in Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Expansion Act, which would renew and expand funding for certified community behavioral health clinics,” she said. “Those clinics were established in 2014, and under this act, it would result in the most significant expansion in decades. We’re still hoping we can see some movement before the end of the year on that.”
Additionally, Judnich said Stabenow has placed a focus on the implementation of the Farm Bill passed in 2018.
“This year it has all been about implementation and making sure organizations and communities in the state know about resources that are available,” she said. “In early November it was announced that there will be $12 million to expand the Double Up Food Bucks program in Michigan.”
Judnich said that the program allows anyone with a Bridge Card or food stamps to earn Double Up Food Bucks to receive $1 for fruits and vegetables for every $1 spent on fruits and vegetables at farmers markets and grocery stores.
From U.S. Congressman John Moolenaar’s office, staffer Luke Derheim applauded news about the USMCA (United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement) coming to fruition, replacing the previous North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
“That’s great news for a lot of American farmers and a lot of American businessmen,” he said. “We also did come to a long-term funding agreement, which is great for overall stability.”
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