The BWL is not doing enough to meet its clean energy goals


In 2023, we realized that climate change is NOT a hoax. The seven warmest years on record occurred within the last decade, and 2023 is set to be the warmest ever. Among the usual symptoms of climate change, like drought and heat waves, 2023 also gave us new phenomena: Canadian wildfire smoke that was hazardous to breathe and rapidly intensifying storms that developed quicker than ever and turned deadly without warning. 

The International Panel on Climate Change has determined that human activities, primarily through greenhouse gas emissions (i.e., burning coal and natural gas) have caused global temperatures to rise, which caused adverse impacts, fatalities and billions in economic damages. The IPCC has said that to avert the worst effects of climate change, we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and have no net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050.

The Lansing Board Water & Light is our hometown power company, but it’s also a part of the global emissions problem. It could be part of the solution, but recent statements and actions do not inspire confidence. BWL GM Dick Peffley proudly tells anyone who will listen that the BWL will reach its goals of 50% clean energy by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2040. Yet in October, when Peffley appeared at a joint meeting of the BWL and the Lansing City Council and I asked him how the BWL would meet these goals, he could not explain.

It wasn’t the only unsubstantiated or confusing statement that the BWL has made about its climate and environmental goals. According to the information on its website, 87%  of its energy is derived from dirty fossil fuels and only 13% from clean energy, namely wind and solar. Yet the BWL recently told its Board of Commissioners that it had met its goal of 30% clean energy in 2020. How could both statements be true? 

Based on the BWL’s heavy reliance on coal and gas, the BWL should be doing everything possible to move away from fossil fuels. In 2020, the BWL’s strategic plan was developed and envisioned no new gas plants. Instead, this October, it announced a plan that it would install a new, 110-megawatt gas plant using Reciprocating Internal Combustion Engines — RICE — and it might install a second one. The plan also calls for investment in clean energy. However, to date, only the RICE plant plan is moving forward. Problematically, there was no public comment process regarding the new projects and very little input from the Board of Commissioners despite the fact that the new projects likely represent the largest expansion of electricity generation in the BWL’s history. 

Natural gas emits about half the carbon dioxide of coal when its burned, but according to a study published in 2018 in the journal Science, greenhouse gas emissions are doubled by releases of unburned methane, the major component of natural gas, during drilling, fracking and transmission of natural gas through pipelines. In total, the greenhouse emissions of gas are similar to those of coal. According to the American Lung Association, burning gas at power plants also emits pollution that contributes to ground-level ozone that is linked to asthma and premature death. 

The RICE that the BWL plans to install burns dirtier than the combined-cycle gas plants found at BWL’s Delta Energy Park and co-generation facility in REO Town. But the BWL’s Board of Commissioners recently approved a bond to pay for the new electricity generation that referred to natural gas as “clean.” When I asked Peffley about the RICE plant at our October meeting, he admitted that gas is not clean and said he hasn’t researched the increased environmental and health hazards of these facilities.  

Peffley told the Board of Commissioners that the RICE plant was necessary to supply electricity for the new Ultium electric car battery plant in Delta Township. General Motors, one of the partners in the Ultium joint venture, has told its shareholders,  “We recently announced the finalization of energy sourcing agreements required to secure 100% of the energy needed to power all our U.S. facilities with renewable energy by 2025…. We are on target to meet the remaining needs of our global operations with 100% renewable energy by 2035.” In light of these goals, can’t the BWL and General Motors work together to avoid the use of new gas? 

The BWL should be a leader on climate and enviornmental issues. This leadership requires more transparency, more engagement with the public, and greater effort to move away from fossil fuels.


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