Letters 10-24-2016

It’s Obama’s 1984 Several editions ago I concluded a short letter to the editor with an ominous rhetorical flourish: “Welcome to George Orwell’s 1984 and the grand opening of the Federal Department of Truth!” At the time I am sure most of the readers laughed off my comments as right-wing hyperbole. Shame on you for doubting me...

Gun Bans Don’t Work It is said that mass violence only happens in the USA. A lone gunman in a rubber boat, drifted ashore at a popular resort in Tunisia and randomly shot and killed 38 mostly British and Irish tourists. Tunisian gun laws, which are among the most restrictive in the world, didn’t stop this mass slaughter. And in January 2015, two armed men killed 11 and wounded 11 others in an attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. French gun laws didn’t stop these assassins...

Scripps’ Good Deed No good deed shall go unpunished! When Dan Scripps was the 101st District State Representative, he introduced legislation to prevent corporations from contaminating (e.g. fracking) or depleting (e.g. Nestle) Michigan’s water table for corporate profit. There are no property lines in the water table, and many of us depend on private wells for abundant, safe, clean water. In the subsequent election, Dan’s opponents ran a negative campaign almost solely on the misrepresentation that Dan’s good deed was a government takeover of your private water well...

Political Definitions As the time to vote draws near it’s a good time to check into what you stand for. According to Dictionary.com the meanings for liberal and conservative are as follows:

Liberal: Favorable to progress or reform as in political or religious affairs.

Conservative: Disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditions and limit change...

Voting Takes A Month? Hurricane Matthew hit the Florida coast Oct. 6, over three weeks before Election Day. Bob Ross (Oct. 17th issue) posits that perhaps evacuation orders from Governor Scott may have had political motivations to diminish turnout and seems to praise Hillary Clinton’s call for Gov. Scott to extend Florida’s voter registration deadline due to evacuations...

Clinton Foundation Facts Does the Clinton Foundation really spend a mere 10 percent (per Mike Pence) or 20 percent (per Reince Priebus) of its money on charity? Not true. Charity Watch gives it an A rating (the same as it gives the NRA Foundation) and says it spends 88 percent on charitable causes, and 12 percent on overhead. Here is the source of the misunderstanding: The Foundation does give only a small percentage of its money to charitable organizations, but it spends far more money directly running a number of programs...

America Needs Change Trump supports our constitution, will appoint judges that will keep our freedoms safe. He supports the partial-birth ban; Hillary voted against it. Regardless of how you feel about Trump, critical issues are at stake. Trump will increase national security, monitor refugee admissions, endorse our vital military forces while fighting ISIS. Vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence will be an intelligent asset for the country. Hillary wants open borders, increased government regulation, and more demilitarization at a time when we need strong military defenses...

My Process For No I will be voting “no” on Prop 3 because I am supportive of the process that is in place to review and approve developments. I was on the Traverse City Planning Commission in the 1990s and gained an appreciation for all of the work that goes into a review. The staff reviews the project and makes a recommendation. The developer then makes a presentation, and fellow commissioners and the public can ask questions and make comments. By the end of the process, I knew how to vote for a project, up or down. This process then repeats itself at the City Commission...

Regarding Your Postcard If you received a “Vote No” postcard from StandUp TC, don’t believe their lies. Prop 3 is not illegal. It won’t cost city taxpayers thousands of dollars in legal bills or special elections. Prop 3 is about protecting our downtown -- not Munson, NMC or the Commons -- from a future of ugly skyscrapers that will diminish the very character of our downtown...

Vote Yes It has been suggested that a recall or re-election of current city staff and Traverse City Commission would work better than Prop 3. I disagree. A recall campaign is the most divisive, costly type of election possible. Prop 3, when passed, will allow all city residents an opportunity to vote on any proposed development over 60 feet tall at no cost to the taxpayer...

Yes Vote Explained A “yes” vote on Prop 3 will give Traverse City the right to vote on developments over 60 feet high. It doesn’t require votes on every future building, as incorrectly stated by a previous letter writer. If referendums are held during general elections, taxpayers pay nothing...

Beware Trump When the country you love have have served for 33 years is threatened, you have an obligation and a duty to speak out. Now is the time for all Americans to speak out against a possible Donald Trump presidency. During the past year Trump has been exposed as a pathological liar, a demagogue and a person who is totally unfit to assume the presidency of our already great country...

Picture Worth 1,000 Words Nobody disagrees with the need for affordable housing or that a certain level of density is dollar smart for TC. The issue is the proposed solution. If you haven’t already seen the architect’s rendition for the site, please Google “Pine Street Development Traverse City”...

Living Wage, Not Tall Buildings Our community deserves better than the StandUp TC “vote no” arguments. They are not truthful. Their yard signs say: “More Housing. Less Red Tape. Vote like you want your kids to live here.” The truth: More housing, but for whom? At what price..

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Our Renewable Future

A conversation with energetic Skip Pruss

Patrick Sullivan - December 30th, 2013  

Stanley “Skip” Pruss is an advocate of renewable energy with an impressive résumé -- he served as director of the Department of Environmental Quality under Gov. Granholm. Later, in her administration, Pruss was director of the Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth and Michigan’s Chief Energy Officer, where he was responsible for designing and implementing Michigan’s clean energy economy diversification efforts.

Today he splits his time between Lansing, where he is co-founder of 5 Lakes Energy LLC, and his home in Northport.

Last year, Pruss saw the 25x25 state ballot initiative -- a measure that would have required energy producers to produce at least 25 percent renewable energy by 2025 -- get trounced by voters in the state.

There is no new initiative planned in 2014, but that doesn’t mean Pruss isn’t busy. The Express sat down with him to talk about the future of renewable energy in Michigan, Northern Michigan’s clean energy economy, and his Christmas light display.

Northern Express: Since the 25x25 proposal got rejected by voters in 2012, is anything on the horizon for 2014 or beyond?

Skip Pruss: As I’m sure you well know, the governor had this series of public meetings on a series of questions -- more than a hundred questions -- relating to different energy issues. That process culminated with the issuance of draft reports for public comment on renewable energy, on energy optimization, on transmission issues. And now all four final reports are out, so that work should provide the administration and hopefully the legislature with credible, hard data that should inform policy on an ongoing basis.

The governor’s office has been adamant in saying that this is an honest process and I think by virtually any metric, that one would apply. It was work well done. The ultimate question is, to what purpose?

Express: How do you assess Michigan’s clean energy economy right now?

Pruss: I would characterize it as being one of opportunity. In Michigan generally, we have renewable energy portfolio standards that have been an outstanding success. Our utilities are ahead of schedule in implementation.

The cost of this implementation, which if you look back, when the legislation was passed, was expected to be in the neighborhood of $6 billion, has really been $2 billion, so it’s come in at one third the cost. I was intimately involved in these negotiations on the legislation. Utilities were skeptical that we could get to 10 percent by 2015. They were suggesting at the time that 7 percent was more realistic. We’re meeting 10 percent easily.

The clean energy technologies are much more economically efficient than we anticipated. So all of that is good.

With all that success, the real answer to your question is, what we’ve done is really quite tepid, by comparative analysis to other states, other countries. We have so much more opportunity, and that’s really a shame, because we have strengths here in Michigan that other states don’t have, in terms of advanced manufacturing capacity, in terms of engineering capacity, in terms of material science, in terms of collaborations between large corporations that have the resources to accelerate the evolution of clean-energy technologies.

We have all of those things. What we don’t have is policy to advance it. And policy matters. Policy is very important.

Express: What does a Northern Michigan clean-energy economy look like?

Pruss: What’s interesting in Northern Michigan is we have, I think, an interesting demographic here. We have, generally speaking, more educated people, more engaged people. It seems like we have more people and more organizations who are inclined to invest their time and resources in trying to be more energy efficient. One of the things that we hope to do is a solarization project for northwestern Michigan, first centered on the wineries.

There are other states who are deploying every quarter more than a hundred times more solar PV than Michigan. More than a hundred times. We’re a top-five state in solar jobs. We’re a bottom five-state in solar deployment.

And we have the opportunity to change all of that, because solar energy is becoming so cheap that residential homeowners and commercial enterprises are now suddenly confronted with the reality that now or in the very near future they will be able to deploy renewable energy systems and produce energy at the same cost or less than grid-delivered electrons. And that’s very exciting. And northwest Michigan is a place where that can happen first.

Express: There’s a lot of talk about the prospect of renewable energy being a great source of new jobs. Is that happening? Can a regular person who is looking at changing careers or trying to decide what to study in school get a job if they go into renewable energy?

Pruss: The opportunity, if it isn’t there today, certainly will be there tomorrow.

The deployment of renewable energy, becoming increasingly more energy efficient, is inevitable. You ask any expert. Ask any member of the Michigan Public Service Commission. Our three commissioners. Ask the staff. Look to energy experts. Even look to the fossil fuel multinational corporations. By the literature, by the projections out there, we’re going to be doing more and more of this. It is the future. It’s absolutely true.

Let me make a particular point on this, because if you just look at the last four years nationally, what has happened, it’s truly remarkable. We have tripled the amount of wind energy in the last four years in the United States. The costs have come down. The efficiency of the wind turbines have gone up with longer blades and taller towers. So that’s a huge success story.

With regard to solar energy, in four years we have increased the amount of solar in the United States by a factor of 10, and today a solar PV module costs one percent of what it cost in 1985. Four years ago we had 400,000 LED lights deployed in the United States. Today we have 20 million.

These are I think important metrics and it shows where all of this is going. That said, even as a country, we’re doing far less than our European counterparts.

Express: What do you think is the future of offshore wind development on Lake Michigan?

Pruss: That’s a really interesting question.

We have a huge amount of wind resources in the Great Lakes and all of the issues that are issues with respect to onshore wind, issues like vibration and noise and flicker from the sun reflecting off the turbine blades, those kinds of issues -- which are controllable onshore and we’re dealing with -- none of those issues exist for offshore wind.

The biggest impediment to offshore wind, well, there are two -- one is the economics, because it’s definitely more expensive at this point in time, the other is aesthetics. The good news about aesthetics is that wind energy in the Great Lakes can be deployed in such a way where aesthetics really diminish as an issue or become nonexistent.

For instance, in Lake Michigan we have something called the Lake Michigan plateau, which is the middle of Lake Michigan, which is a shallow area where we could deploy wind farms out there and they would essentially not be visible from either Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana or Michigan. There’s a tremendous amount of power out there. The biggest hurdle, other than politics and lack of policy, is economics. It’s more expensive now. But here’s the reality of energy economics -- the price of wind energy, solar energy, is coming down dramatically every year. And the cost of fossil fuels are going up.

Express: What about natural gas? Pruss: Well, the wholesale price of natural gas has gone up, depending on where you are in the country, between 50 percent and 150 percent in the last year.

The problem with natural gas is price volatility. If the producers of natural gas do what they want to do -- what they not unreasonably need to do as an industry -- is increase the price of natural gas; commodify the price so there is an international price, just like there is for oil and petroleum fuels. Then natural gas won’t be cheap in the future. And that’s not an unreasonable goal from the perspective of the industry.

The economics of fuel-less, clean-energy technologies are incredibly compelling. And the disparity in cost between clean energy technologies and fossil fuel technologies will only grow in the future. There’s no question that that will occur. The gap between the cost of those technologies will increase in the future.

Express: What are the biggest differences between living in Northport and living in Lansing?

Pruss: Proximity to water. Lansing is, I think, as far as you can get from the Great Lakes in Michigan. Northport embraces the lakes and is a spectacularly beautiful place to live. That’s something that we in Michigan don’t realize and maybe it’s a secret we want to keep, but to 99.9 percent of world’s population, the notion of freshwater oceans is something literally beyond their comprehension. People don’t appreciate what we have. What we have is a globally unique resource.

Express: How many Christmas lights do you have strung around your house?

Pruss: We have only LED lights on our tree. Which is up.

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