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From The Environment Report by Zoe Clark and Steve Carmody

It’s been two years since a busted pipeline spilled more than 800,000 gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River. 

Michigan Radio’s Zoe Clark and Steve Carmody discussed what has happen since then, and how it affects the environment and the company involved.

Zoe Clark: Enbridge has already spent more than $750 million trying to clean up the spill.  Where does the clean up effort stand?

Steve Carmody: At this point, there is still oil in the river.  Most of the river has been reopened. There is a section of the delta that leads into Morrow Lake which is still off-limits to the general public, because work is being done there, and there are other pockets along the river where oil still exists.

ZC: What is the river like these days? Can you sill see or smell oil?

SC: When I’ve been along the river, and I’ve been in different parts of it, you cannot smell it like you could in the early days, and even as much as a year later. But there are portions, especially where they’re continuing to work to remove oil, where there obviously is still something there. But the amount of oil that is present in the environment in most of the river area is greatly diminished. However, again, there is still some oil in the environment, and there will be for quite a long time.

ZC: Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Transportation recommended a nearly $4 million fine against Embridge.

SC: That’s correct, and that’s the largest fine that the department of transportation has issued in a pipeline break like this.  Now, the cleanup itself is more than $800 million, and that is continuing. So $3.7 million, while it is a lot of money, is really a rather small amount of money compared to the entire cost to Embridge.

ZC: Also, another report came out from the National Transportation Safety Board.

SC: They delivered a scathing report against Enbridge and about how they handled the report when it occurred. They started noticing alarm bells going off, which apparently is not that unusual; anomalies crop up, alarms sound.  But they allowed the alarms to sound for 17 hours before they realized something had happened, and the only reason they found out something had happened is they received a call from the utility people here in the state of Michigan that there was a strong smell of petroleum in the air.

ZC: So what happens now?

SC: Enbridge still has some time to respond to the federal government for the fine, and that discussion will continue on. Embridge’s stock price is about 50 percent higher now than it was two years ago, and you can look at that and say it is because of our demand for oil that the demand is so great. The price Enbridge has had to pay for the past two years, is more than compensated by what needs to be done from this point forward. Enbridge is facing other issues as well. What happened here in Michigan is affecting Enbridge’s ability to build a $5 billion pipeline in Canada, because there’s a lot of anger about what happened here, and they don’t want it to happen there in Canada. But, the project has the strong support of the government in Ottowa. So, all of the negative publicity that has come out of this oil spill is probably not going to affect Enbridge’s ability to move forward from this point.

 

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From the Environment Report by Rebecca Williams

The Palisades Nuclear Power Plant near South Haven has an aluminum water tank that’s used in case of emergencies or when the plant needs to be refueled.  That water tank has been leaking for several weeks.  On Tuesday evening, the Palisades plant was shut down so workers can fix the leak.

Lindsey Smith is Michigan Radio’s West Michigan reporter. Lindsey, the shutdown this week was a planned outage – so, in other words, the plant operators saw this coming.

Lindsey: That’s right – the company, Entergy, told me this tank has been leaking for several weeks. It’s an old aluminum tank that holds 300,000 gallons of water. By old I mean it’s been around as long as Palisades – 40 years old.

It’s considered to be a small leak and the company has been collecting the water and monitoring it for weeks.  But on Tuesday the amount reached 31 gallons per day… and that was the threshold where the company determined the leak had to be fixed. So that means taking the plant out of service.

Rebecca: Does that water that’s leaking out pose any safety hazard?

Lindsey:  We asked Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesperson Viktoria Mitlyng that question and she says no.

“They’re collecting that water; it has no way of getting out of the plant. It cannot go outside and it does not pose a threat to plant workers and at this rate of leakage it does not compromise the plant’s stability or safety. “

Rebecca: So any idea how long it’ll take to fix this leak?

Lindsey: No clue. The plant operators will never say how long an outage will last.  Entergy spokesperson Mark Savage walked me through the process though:

“Shut the reactor down which we’ve done, unload the water from the tank, find the leak, repair the leak fill it up again and start the reactor back up.”

Rebecca:  So this time around the shutdown was planned.  But Palisades had five unplanned shutdowns last year – and one of those was considered to be of substantial safety significance.  Because of that the power plant now has one of the worst safety ratings in the country.

Lindsey: And that means the federal government is watching the plant more closely. NRC spokesperson Viktoria Mitlyng says they want to see how the plant operators handle this repair… and see what caused the leak in the first place.

“You know, we are at the same time evaluating plant performance. If we find any deficiencies or any findings that will be public information, we will document it in the inspection report.”

In addition to this… the Palisades plant has to undergo a major follow-up inspection to see how they’re doing after all those safety problems last year.  The plant has until the end of September to get ready for that inspection. If they’re not ready by then they’ll be moved into a category that’s one step next to mandatory shutdown by the federal government.

Rebecca: You’ve reported recently that Entergy is revamping all of its safety procedures.  But the NRC Chairman toured the plant at the end of May and said that plant operators have made some improvements but they need to work on the fundamentals of nuclear safety.

Lindsey:  Yeah, that was sort of ear catching, I’ll say, when the NRC chair says a company needs to work on the “basics of nuclear safety” as he put it. The agency is worried about poor maintenance, a questionable safety structure, poor work supervision, failure to follow up on procedures.

Here’s the list of the concerns discussed at the NRC’s January 2012 hearing:

  • Organizational failures
  • The need for a recovery plan
  • Poor quality work instructions
  • Failure to follow procedures
  • Poor supervision and oversight of work
  • Poor maintenance
  • Failure to respect the role of an operator
  • Multiple events caused by personnel or equipment failures
  • Questionable safety structure

But the NRC chairman said that he believes the company is making progress.

Most importantly, the NRC says the Palisades plant is operating safely, and if it were not, they would shut it down.

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From The Environment Report by Rebecca Williams

A new report argues that our current laws are not strong enough to protect the Great Lakes from major oil spills.

The National Wildlife Federation wanted to look at pipeline oversight after the massive tar sands oil spill in the Kalamazoo River in 2010.  The spill was the result of a ruptured pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy.  (The official cause of the spill is still under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board)

Sara Gosman is an attorney who wrote the report for the National Wildlife Federation.

“Federal laws are inadequate and states have not passed their own laws to fill in the gaps.”

We’ve previously reported the spill ran through some of the highest quality wetlands in Michigan.

Sara Gosman says federal laws on oil pipelines do not protect all environmentally sensitive areas.  Instead, the laws cover something called high consequence areas.

“It’s a term of art used by the federal pipeline agency.  It’s a bunch of different areas.  For environmental purposes, it’s commercially navigable waterways, areas with threatened and endangered species and drinking water sources.”

Gosman says federal government data show 44% of hazardous liquid pipelines in the country run through places that could affect high consequence areas.  She says that means companies have to do special inspections on those segments of pipelines… but not necessarily on the rest of the pipelines.

“This means 56% of hazardous liquid pipeline miles do not have to be continually assessed, have leak detection systems or be repaired on set timelines.”

But she says it’s hard to find out exactly where the boundaries of these high consequence areas are.  That’s because after September 11th, the federal government started keeping the maps of these areas secret for national security reasons.

The report identifies another problem with oversight of oil pipelines.

Basically, pipeline companies do not have to ask the federal government for permission to site a new oil pipeline… unless the pipeline crosses an international border.  Individual states do have a say if they have laws on the books.

In the Great Lakes region, Michigan, Minnesota and Illinois require permits for new oil pipeline construction.

But Sara Gosman says the federal government is not paying enough attention to where new oil pipelines are built.

“At the federal level, we don’t have any oversight of routing of pipelines. For natural gas pipelines they do, but not for oil.”

Gosman says the federal agency that’s in charge of pipelines – the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration – is specifically not allowed to regulate siting and routing of oil pipelines.

Sara Gosman says the result of all this – is that the Great Lakes are not adequately protected from another big oil spill.

“Pipeline spills may well happen. Everyone agrees getting to zero is the important goal. Whether we can ever get to zero… hard to know.”

We requested comment on the new pipeline safety report from industry groups.  Both Enbridge and the Association of Oil Pipelines said they were not able to respond to the report by our deadline.

In January this year, President Obama signed a new pipeline safety act into law.  It doubles the maximum fine for safety violations and it authorizes more government pipeline inspectors.

Carl Weimer is the executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust.  His group has been pushing for better oversight of pipelines.

“There’s a major significant incident on a pipeline somewhere in the country about every day and a half.  If you look at just the last five years, just on hazardous liquid pipelines, there have been over 1,700 incidents spilling more than 23 million gallons of liquid into the environment.”

He says the new pipeline safety act is a start.

“But many of the most important sections of that bill just required more study and did not actually correct the problems.”

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From the Environment Report – Rebecca Williams

You’ve probably noticed we’ve had a strange spring.

This March – the warm temperatures broke 15,292 weather records across the country.   And last year… there were 14 weather-related disasters that each caused $1 billion – or more – in damages.

A new study finds a large majority of Americans are now connecting specific extreme weather events to climate change.

The study is part of a long-term project called Climate Change in the American Mind.  It’s by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication.

Ed Maibach directs George Mason’s climate change center and he joins me now to talk more about this.  Professor Maibach, you found that 82 percent of Americans personally experienced one or more types of extreme weather or natural disaster in the past year.  How are these experiences affecting people’s understanding of climate change?

Ed Maibach: “We know that most Americans believe the climate is changing, and now, this latest survey shows us that a lot of people are connecting the experience of the extreme weather they’re experiencing to the fact that the climate is changing.”

RW: How many people do you think understand the difference between weather and climate?

Maibach: “Not too many. Weather and climate tend to be confused as being one and the same. Of course, climate is defined as the average weather over a long period of time, often 30 years. Weather is by its very nature variable, but climate change is making weather even more variable and even more extreme and people are clearly picking up on that.”

RW: What happens to Americans’ belief in climate change when there’s an unusually cold winter or record snowfalls?

Maibach: “So, extreme weather events that fall outside of our expectations of global warming such as particularly cold or snowy weather will tend to undermine our belief in climate change. Whereas those unusual or extreme weather events that fall within our expectations of what a changing climate should look like, such as a drought or an extreme heat event, heat wave, those will tend to support or reaffirm our belief that the climate is changing.”

RW: So how does the way that meteorologists and TV weathercasters present what’s going on affect people’s beliefs?

Maibach: “Most TV weathercasters don’t spend much time talking about climate change and its relation to the weather. Although we have surveyed America’s TV meteorologists twice over the past two years and we found that a lot of them would like to start educating their viewers about the difference between climate and weather and about the ways in which climate change is affecting their weather. It’s a difficult thing to do, in the short period of time that weathercasters have on the air each day, but I think you’re going to start seeing it more and more as we go forward.”

RW: What are you seeing happen with the political divisions around the subject of climate change over time?

Maibach: “Yeah, unfortunately, the political divisions seem to keep deepening.  And the real question is, what are we going to do to try to bring Americans of all political parties back together onto the same song sheet, so we can stop debating something that the scientists answered a long time ago, which is – is climate change real? – and we can start talking about what we want to do about it.  The most serious misperception about climate change in America today is the belief that there’s a lot of disagreement among the climate scientists about whether or not climate change is real and human caused. Virtually all climate experts are in agreement that it is both real and human caused. Yet only about one out of three, maybe as much as 40% of Americans understand that to be the case.  So America’s climate scientists have got to do a better job of conveying the fact that they have in fact reached consensus.”

RW: Ed Maibach directs George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication.  Thank you for talking with me!

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From the Environment Report – Peter Payette

There’s a new book out today about an unusual conservation project based in northern Michigan.  For most of the last two decades, a man from Copemish has been cloning old trees around the world.  David Milarch believes the genetics of these trees are superior and could be useful in the era of climate change.  The author of the book says he might have a point.  Peter Payette reports:

Back in the year 2000, an elm tree not far from David Milarch’s home was diagnosed with Dutch elm disease.  It was not just any elm.  It was the National Champion American elm at the time.  That means it was the largest known elm in the country.

Milarch tried to heal the tree with a soil treatment but it died.  He did manage to clone the Buckley elm.

Today at the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive, there are about a dozen copies of the tree.

“Here’s the Buckley elm, the greatest elm in America.  And it’s living on and it can be utilized. That’s really what it’s all about.”

David Milarch is feeling pretty vindicated these days, with the recording breaking warm weather we just experienced in March.

He decided global warming was a dire threat twenty years because he thought the forests looked sick.

He thinks what we need are some better trees.

Trees take carbon out of the atmosphere and do a host of other things to regulate ecosystems.

But as Milarch sees it, the trees around today are garbage.

That’s because loggers take the best trees first and places like Michigan have been pretty heavily logged.

“They always went in and took the biggest, straightest, clearest log, and left the crooked, the branchy, the sick or the puny behind.  The money wasn’t in it. So that’s what’s been allowed to reproduce.”

That’s why Milarch has spent the last couple decades trying to clone big old trees.  So the genetics will be preserved.

Meryl Marsh runs the day to day operations here, and she sometimes climbs trees hundreds of feet tall to gather buds.  Marsh says old trees are hard to clone.

“It’s like asking your grandparents to produce offspring, or a really old horse to breed.”

Archangel has cloned 48 different tree species.  And this work has been big hit with the media.  After all, cloning an ancient tree makes a good story.  And now to the mountain of news clips Milarch can add a book about his project.

Jim Robbins is a regular contributor to the New York Times.  He says forest ecology is not the most well understood science and little is known about tree genetics.

“And David has said, well, since we don’t know, let’s save these proven survivors and let’s plant them and protect them in other places in case something happens. And if those genetics are important, and of course genetics are important in every other field, then we’ll have those protected. And that was a good idea according to a lot of scientists I talked to.”

Robbins lays out the science of trees and David Milarch’s story in his new book, The Man Who Planted Trees.

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by Bob Allen for The Environment Report

A hard freeze has wiped out a big portion of the cherry crop in Northwest Michigan this spring.  The area produces more than half the state’s cherries that end up in desserts, juice and as dried fruit.

An historic early warm-up in March left fruit trees vulnerable to frost once the weather turned cooler again.

Temperatures broke records for the month of March across the Great Lakes region.

Climate researchers say there’s never been anything like it going back more than a hundred years.

“We’re seeing history made before our eyes at least in terms of climatology.”

Jeff Andresen is the state’s climatologist and professor of geography at Michigan State.

“And in some ways if we look at where our vegetation is and how advanced it is, it’s probably a month ahead of where it typically is.”

Andresen is careful to point out that this year’s early warm-up is an extreme weather event.

He says it far outpaces the previous warmest March on record in 1945.

He can’t say it’s a direct result of climate change.

But it fits the predicted long term pattern of change that includes extreme fluctuations.

During one period, there were several straight days of above 80 degree daytime highs and nighttime temperatures in the 60’s.

At the time, Nikki Rothwell was checking the cherry trees at the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Center in Leelanau County.

And she was seeing day-to-day changes in the fruit buds that are highly unusual.

“It’s just been uncanny. When I go out and look at those trees I look at what we saw yesterday in development and then I look at what we saw today in development and it actually looks like it kinda jumped to the next stage of development.”

Normally, that kind of growth would take weeks to occur.

But, Rothwell says, it’s hard to tell what’s normal anymore.

There’s a trend over the last 30 years of earlier spring warm-ups by as much as seven to 10 days, on average.

But the last date for a killing freeze has not moved earlier to keep pace.

Jeff Andresen at Michigan State has done a lot of that research.

With the extremely early warm-up this year, the fruit buds advanced to a stage of development that left them very vulnerable to temperatures below freezing.

And, as Andresen says, it was highly likely that temperatures would return to more springtime norms.

“There has never been a spring season, April, May or June, in which we have not observed freezing temperatures, or actually hard freezes. It’s never happened.”

And sure enough, on the last Sunday night in March, there was a prolonged freeze with strong winds and temperatures in the mid-20’s.

It hit the heavy fruit growing areas in Leelanau County particularly hard.

Frances Otto manages Cherry Bay Orchards north of Suttons Bay.

“I’d say we’ve got at least a 90% crop loss.”

The official numbers for the Northwest region are losses of tart cherries in the 50 to 70% range.

Southwestern Michigan and the areas midway up the west coast haven’t been hit as hard.

But there have been more overnight frosts around the time of the full moon that continued to do significant damage to other fruits as well, such as apples, peaches and plums.

And there are other concerns besides a freeze.

Nikki Rothwell of the Horticultural Research Center says growers had to start spraying orchards to kill fungus that was released early because of the warm-up.

“There’s going to be a challenge to fight off more insects, more generations of insects and a longer season of fighting those pathogens.”

And there’s another problem for farmers who still may have a crop.

The fruit blossoms have a short window for pollination.

But now that more normal spring temperatures are back, it’s too cool for honeybees to fly.

 

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From The Environment Report

The people who manage salmon in Lake Michigan will have to decide soon how many fish to put into the lake.  The salmon fishery is a man-made industry in the Great Lakes.  It’s produced by planting millions and millions of fish in the lakes.  But keeping the salmon population in balance with the food supply is a challenge these days.  And some scientists are raising new questions about the salmon’s demise in Lake Huron and whether that can be stopped in Lake Michigan.

Salmon were brought in from the Pacific Ocean.

Some fish have learned to breed in the wild but historically, if you caught a salmon in the Great Lakes, it was born in a tank.

But by 2002, that was no longer true in Lake Huron.  That year, researchers observed something they didn’t believe, at first.  Four out of every five salmon were  wild.

Jim Johnson is a state fisheries biologist based in Alpena.  He says they assumed there was something wrong with the data.

“And we thought maybe it was a tick that would stabilize later on. But every year since then it’s been about 80 percent. It wasn’t just a flash in the pan it was a permanent change.”

The change might sound like good news: more fish.

But there were too many, far too many.

They ran out of food and died off.

Today, the once famous salmon fishery in  Lake Huron is pretty much gone.

And Jim Johnson says it all happened rather suddenly.

“The Great Lakes are big waters; you think of things happening slowly in such big waters.  This was relatively rapid.”

What happened in Lake Huron was the fish adapted well to some rivers in Georgian Bay.

Johnson estimates that while the state was putting three million fish in the lake each year, as many as 14 million wild fish would be born in Georgian Bay.

That overwhelmed the food supply of the whole lake.

You might say that the salmon, an exotic fish, became an invasive species in Lake Huron and wrecked the food web.

Recently, scientists have begun to talk about the fact that Lakes Huron and Michigan are connected by the Straits of Mackinac.

They know fish pass through the Straits but have generally believed it’s a minor factor.

But one scientist in particular is now questioning that assumption.

Rick Clark does research through Michigan State University.  Clark noticed something unusual about fishing in Lake Michigan during the past decade.

He says the fishing has been nearly as good as it was back in the eighties: the best fishing ever on Lake Michigan.

But anglers spend about half as much time fishing as they did back then.

“So that meant that half the number of fishermen were catching just as many fish. Which is hard to explain except that there must’ve been more fish out in the lake.”

His hypothesis is that lots of fish born in Lake Huron are coming over to feed in Lake Michigan.

It’s a just a hypothesis, but it’s a troubling one.

Clark says if millions of wild salmon are coming over from Georgian Bay, the salmon fishery in Lake Michigan could collapse too.

But Mark Ebener doesn’t think that’s happening.

He’s a fisheries biologist for the Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority.

Ebener says the salmon fishing is horrible in Lake Huron right now.

“If there really was (sic) that many wild fish being produced in Lake Huron and particularly in Georgian Bay and moving into Lake Michigan, we would see substantial better fisheries than what we see… they’re not going to make a beeline for Georgian Bay into Lake Michigan.”

Ebener says it would take centuries for the salmon to develop such a specific migration pattern.

But the managers of Lake Michigan are anxious about this very possibility.

And it is something of a wildcard as they decide how to maintain the state’s prized salmon fishery.

 

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From the Environment Report

This year, federal regulators will keep a close eye on the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant. The plant had three safety violations last year. That makes it one of only four nuclear plants in the nation with such a bad safety rating.

Lindsey Smith reports people who live by the plant near South Haven are still trying to figure out what the safety violations mean to them:

About 700 people work at Palisades every day. It’s one of the largest employers in Van Buren County. The plant is the county’s largest taxpayer too, with money going to a number of public schools, libraries, a hospital and local governments.

But the recent safety violations make some people who live nearby uncomfortable.

“My name’s Barbara Geisler. I live on a farm here outside of Bangor with my husband. And I’m Maynard Kauffman and I feel really nice about this place because it’s prime farmland.”

Geisler and Kauffman’s 22 acre farm has rich black soil. It lies about 11 miles away from the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant.

Kauffman didn’t think too much about the plant when he bought his farm back in 1973, two years after the plant opened.

But by 2005, when plant operators began asking regulators to renew their operating license, Kauffman and Geisler were at the plant protesting the renewal.

“And with a lot of people carrying signs ‘shut it down, shut it down’ and then it was after that that we decided when we built our house not to use nuclear energy for electricity.”

Instead, the farm is powered by two small scale wind turbines and a solar panel. Kauffman says it gives him a good feeling knowing none of their energy is coming from coal, natural gas or the Palisades plant. But the two still have a bad feeling about Palisades. They’re worried about the steel vessel that contains the actual nuclear reactor. That vessel is the oldest in the country.

“If you just have one accident and if it were only one in a million, it is a cost that we don’t want to have to bear.”

The company that operates the plant, Entergy, will need to update the steel vessel or prove that it can withstand further use in order to keep operating past 2017.

But that vessel issue is actually separate from the safety violations the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued Palisades last year. In all, the plant had four unplanned reactor shutdowns, resulting in significant safety violations.

“Were there mistakes made? Yes there were. And those have been corrected.”

That’s Mark Savage, a Palisades spokesperson. At the NRC’s annual assessment meeting in South Haven last night, another Entergy official said safety improvements have already been made. He says human errors, the main cause of the safety violations issued last year, have declined.

But the NRC’s Acting Regional Administrator Cindy Peterson says the company will still be under close surveillance this year.

“Quite frankly we won’t be satisfied until your performance improves.”

The NRC says the safety problems at Palisades are uncommon, but not enough to warrant a shutdown. The NRC says the Palisades plant is operating safely.

NRC inspectors will spend thousands of man hours at the plant this year and beyond, until Entergy can prove the safety culture at Palisades is up to federal regulators’ standards.

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From the Environment Report

Big wind farms generate not just power but a lot of controversy. There’s been quite a debate in northern Michigan recently about the effects on safety, health, property values and the landscape. Smaller scale projects called community wind are designed to avoid those criticisms. But, as Bob Allen reports, there are still roadblocks:

Northport is a picturesque village that sits near the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula. For the past two years, a group of residents there, mostly retirees, has been working to put up one small wind turbine.

Doug McInnis says the opportunity just about fell into their laps.

“There was this unique spot. There was a hill. And it’s near right where you want to put the energy. We’re right near a substation. I mean all these things come together and it just says, hey, this is a natural.”

The village owns the hill that rises just behind its new sewage treatment plant. From the hilltop, the turbine will supply half the electricity for the plant. It will be a fraction of the size of new commercial turbines.

State maps show that Leelanau Township has the best sites for wind energy in the Lower Peninsula.

McInnis says the group wants to do something now that will benefit their community for years to come.

“People are concerned about the future generations. And if we don’t start thinking and moving in other directions I don’t know what’s going to happen. It ain’t gonna be good.”

But moving in the direction of renewable energy even for a small village is not easy. The Northport energy group has some pretty impressive credentials, though.

McInnis is a former aerospace engineer. Another member is a retired automotive engineer.

They formed a private company and put up their own money to finance the turbine, along with more than a dozen other investors.

That allows them to use federal tax credits and incentives that would not be available to the village.

The investors expect to make their money back, plus four percent, in about ten years. After that, they’ll turn the windmill over to the village free and clear.

Then the turbine is expected to cut Northport’s energy bill by about $30,000 a year for at least ten years.

Despite the benefits of local owners generating clean energy and using it on site, community wind projects are rare in Michigan.

And Steve Smiley says it’s because the state makes them difficult to do.

“Every time we turn a corner someone’s putting up a wall in front of us.”

Smiley is the project manager for the Northport turbine.

He says, under state rules, there’s an incentive to keep these projects smaller by paying less for the electricity as the projects get bigger.

Originally, he wanted the Northport turbine to be twice as big but that meant less money for the electricity it would generate.

And Smiley says if state rules required a fair price for all community wind it be a lot easier to do.

“We wouldn’t have to go through tons and tons of paperwork and complications and have twenty or thirty people involved for a year just to try to do a piddly little project.”

But it’s not just state rules that stymie community wind. Sometimes local governments make it difficult. Emmet County, for instance, has a very strict noise limit for wind turbines.

That’s meant Chris Stahl had to jump through extra hoops to develop a small windmill for a farm and community kitchen near Cross Village. Stahl is president of Lake Effect Energy in Harbor Springs.

He was able to get around the county restriction by having neighboring landowners agree to a higher noise limit. But it means he has to install meters to keep track of sound at their property lines.

“We haven’t even broke ground on the project yet and we’re already over budget due to the sixteen month process to get the permits and also to buy the additional sound metering equipment.”

Stahl believes community wind will catch on as barriers are broken down and people see how it works.

 

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TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — The Obama administration will spend about $50 million this year to shield the Great Lakes from greedy Asian carp, including first-time water sampling to determine whether the destructive fish have established a foothold in Lakes Michigan and Erie, officials said Thursday.

An updated federal strategy for preventing an invasion also includes stepped-up trapping and netting in rivers that could provide access to the lakes, as well as initial field tests of chemicals that could lure carp to where they could be captured, officials told The Associated Press. An acoustic water gun that could scare the carp away from crucial locations will be tested near a Chicago-area shipping lock that some want closed because it could serve as a doorway to Lake Michigan.

“This strategy builds on the unprecedented and effective plan we are implementing to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes while we determine the best long-term solution,” said John Goss, the Asian carp program director for the White House Council on Environmental Quality. He said initiatives in 2012 would “strengthen our defenses against Asian carp and move even more innovative carp control projects from research into implementation.”

The federal government has already budgeted more than $100 million over the past two years in the fight against bighead and silver carp. They were imported from Asia decades ago and have migrated up the Mississippi River and its tributaries since escaping from fish farms and sewage lagoons in the Deep South. They have infested the Illinois River, which leads to Lake Michigan.

The carp eat massive amounts of plankton — tiny plants and animals at the base of the aquatic food web. Scientists differ about how widely they would spread in the Great Lakes, but under worst-case scenarios they could severely damage the $7 billion fishing industry.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is studying how to stop species migrations between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds, particularly through rivers and canals in the Chicago area. Five states — Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania — are suing in federal court to speed up the study, due for completion in 2015.

Several independent studies, including a report last month by the Great Lakes Commission and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, have called for placing barriers in the Chicago waterways to sever a manmade link between the two drainage basins. Environmentalists favor doing so, but Chicago business interests oppose it, saying it would damage the region’s economy and cause flooding.

The Obama administration has not endorsed separating the systems. Goss told the AP the idea “deserves complete analysis” but said he was concerned about estimates the job would take nearly two decades.

“That’s why the technologies we’re working on for Asian carp control and detection are very important,” he said.

The centerpiece of the federal effort to protect the lakes is an electronic barrier network in a shipping canal southwest of Chicago. The administration’s plan calls for expanded underwater surveillance this year to make sure it’s keeping the carp at bay.

Dozens of water samples taken beyond the barrier in recent years have contained Asian carp DNA, although just one actual carp has been found there. Expanded sampling this year will look for signs of the invaders at about 10 locations in southern Lake Michigan and western Lake Erie. They are considered among the likeliest places in the Great Lakes where the carp could become established, partly because of nearby tributary rivers suitable for spawning.

Crews also will use nets and other devices to look for carp in those areas, Goss said. Although there’s no evidence they have reached any of the lakes, “we want to do valid sampling of fish populations and hopefully confirm that no carp are there,” he said.

Commercial fishermen have been hired to reduce carp numbers in the Illinois River below the barrier. They’ll be provided with new types of nets and other equipment this year to boost the harvest, Goss said. “As the population is reduced in that area, they’re becoming more difficult to catch with traditional netting,” he said.

The underwater gun, which emits piercing blasts of pressure and sound, will be tested near the O’Brien Lock in Chicago, which Michigan and other states have asked federal courts to close because the carp could swim through it to reach Lake Michigan.

“We’re working on a possible strategy to fire these guns prior to opening locks to deter fish from coming into the area,” Goss said.

Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey are developing pheromones — chemical extracts that could steer the carp to where they could be caught. They will undergo initial field testing this year. Progress also is expected on producing food pellets that would poison Asian carp without harming other fish, Goss said.

The administration plans to intensify a crackdown on smuggling of live Asian carp across state lines and the U.S.-Canadian border. Thousands of pounds have been seized at the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, in recent years.

Some funding for the Asian carp program has come from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a federal plan to fix the region’s biggest environmental problems. President Barack Obama has requested $300 million for the program in 2013 on top of $1 billion appropriated since 2008.

“We’re getting results in shielding the Great Lakes from invasive species,” said Cameron Davis, a senior adviser with the Environmental Protection Agency.

 

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