bwl-plant

Making Michigan a better place

In Case Studies, Strategic Communications by Roger Martin

Martin Waymire has a stable of terrific clients. If you are one of them, it’s because we believe you are working to make Michigan a better place. “We strive to make Michigan a better place” is our company’s passion. The statement appears multiple times in our New Team Member Welcome Kit and Employee Manual. It’s noted to everyone who applies to work here. If you are meeting one of our MW team members for the first time, chances are good you will hear it when you ask what we do. It’s tacked and taped to walls and desks around our office. Starting today, and in the coming months, our blog will periodically feature how our clients are making Michigan a better place.

Spotlight on the Lansing Board of Water & Light

In most places around the nation, large investor-owned utilities power the homes and businesses that make America run. Not in Lansing, where the municipally owned Board of Water & Light (BWL) provides electric power to nearly 100,000 customers and drinking water to about 55,000.

The BWL has operated largely with strong public and customer favor literally since the late 1800s. When the company has stumbled (as it most certainly did with its response to the late-December 2013 ice storm that pulverized its entire service territory), it has emerged improved and stronger.

Many U.S. electric utilities — including the BWL — are currently grappling with the same issue: how to replace outdated coal-fired power plants with cleaner energy sources that maintain customers’ needs for reliable and affordable electricity. While much of the coal burned by today’s power plants is cleaner than in the past, coal generates carbon dioxide, mercury and other nasty pollutants. Far cleaner energy sources are available that are also reliable and affordable.

By 2020, the BWL must close its aging Eckert Power Station, a 1950s-era coal plant that generates electric power for thousands of homes and businesses in much of greater Lansing. Eckert is old and expensive to run. Replacement parts are getting hard to find. The plant sits in a flood zone. And it runs on coal.

For six months starting in late 2015, the BWL worked with a Citizens’ Advisory Committee (CAC) to explore how to replace Eckert. In multiple public meetings held around the region, energy experts, BWL customers, and others offered suggestions and counsel. The BWL also surveyed 700 of its residential and business customers to capture their vision of Lansing’s energy future. In the end, it was broadly agreed that the best way to replace Eckert is with a balanced energy portfolio that would be substantially cleaner while ensuring reliable and affordable electricity to the region for decades to come.

Moving Forward

So the BWL is moving forward with an Eckert replacement plan that would make it Michigan’s cleanest electric utility — by far — while also making sure the lights will turn on at affordable rates. Under the plan, about one-third of the BWL’s energy will come from clean, renewable sources and energy efficiency programs by 2020 and 40 percent by 2030.  The first 10 years of the CAC’s recommendations include:

  • 85 megawatts (MWs) of new wind energy. The BWL has about 20 MWs of wind energy today.
  • 40 MWs of new solar energy, to be added to the current plan for a utility scale solar program in Lansing.
  • 100 MWs of new natural gas electric generation, compared to 85 MWs from natural gas today. This will require the construction of a new, cleaner-burning natural gas power plant.
  • Reducing electric energy consumption in the region by 10-percent through the Hometown Energy Savers energy efficiency program.
  • Reducing by 70 MWs the amount of energy consumed during peak demand times by introducing new technologies like “advanced metering infrastructure” and “demand response programs.” These will enable customers to better control their energy use at specific times of the day.

One MW equals 1 million watts of power. Generally speaking, it is estimated that one MW is enough to power about 750 to 1,000 homes.

Some say the BWL could do even better than 40-percent clean and renewable, even if it means higher costs and sacrifices to reliability. Perhaps. But for generations to come, it appears that under the current plan the BWL will be Michigan’s cleanest electric utility. For that alone, we are proud to call the BWL our client as the company operationalizes its commitment to making Michigan a better place.