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Saturday, April 11, 2020

Attorney General Nessel comments on UP Energy Task Force Report on Propane, urges prompt planning to prepare for shutdown of Enbridge Line 5

By Michele Bourdieu

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. (Photo courtesy michigan.gov)

LANSING -- Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel on Monday, April 6, submitted comments on the draft report recently released by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s UP Energy Task Force. The report included specific recommendations to enhance the reliability of propane supply in the Upper Peninsula and a detailed analysis of alternative means of supplying propane if the current system of supply -- which depends in part on Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline -- changes.

The draft report from the Task Force was released on March 31, 2020; and public comments were due April 6, 2020. The UP Energy Task Force will meet via video conferencing from 10 a.m. to noon on Monday, Apr. 13. The public is encouraged to participate and comment. The Task Force is scheduled to finalize the report for the Governor by April 17.

In February, Friends of the Land of Keweenaw (FOLK) -- a local environmental group whose members have attended some of the Task Force meetings -- organized an informal public "Listening and Update" event at the Portage Lake District Public Library.

During a Feb. 22, 2020, presentation at the Portage Lake District Library, organized by FOLK, UP Energy Task Force member Jenn Hill points out statistics on propane use in the Upper Peninsula. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

During the presentation, two members of the Task Force -- Roman Sidortsov, Michigan Tech assistant professor of Energy Policy, and Jenn Hill, Marquette city commissioner and board member of the non-profit Citizens Utility Board of Michigan -- gave an overview of the UP energy system with updates on the first phase of the Task Force work on the UP propane supply structure. (See videos of their presentation below.)

AG Nessel comments on Task Force draft report, calling for Line 5 shutdown

"It is imperative that our state is prepared to implement a cost-effective replacement of propane supplies currently provided by the natural gas liquids the Line 5 pipeline transports," said Nessel. "The Governor's UP Energy Task Force is  focusing on the steps necessary to ensure we meet the energy needs of all Michiganders for generations to come and I commend the task force for their prompt work on this issue."

Key findings in the technical report showing that shutting down Line 5 need not cause propane shortages or large price spikes, include the following:
  • The identification of a number of robust and diverse alternative supply options for delivery to the Michigan market such as transporting propane by rail from other supply hubs; and
  • Supply disruptions will likely result in only modest wholesale price increases.
In her comments, Nessel also endorsed and, in some instances, proposed strengthening specific task force recommendations, including these:
  • Making full use of and expanding propane storage;
  • Improving transportation infrastructure such as rail lines; 
  • Making propane more affordable, especially to low income families; and
  • Strengthening consumer protection laws.
On p. 2 of her letter, Nessel comments on Michigan's immediate need to plan for the shutdown of Line 5 and on her lawsuit against Enbridge:

"Michigan needs to quickly plan for the shutdown of Line 5 and the cost-effective replacement of propane supplies currently produced from the natural gas liquids it transports. I have filed a lawsuit on behalf of the people of the State of Michigan against Enbridge in the Ingham County Circuit Court that alleges and asks the court to determine that Enbridge’s continued operation of Line 5 at the Straits of Mackinac is unlawful and should be halted as soon as possible after a reasonable period of notice, to allow those affected to make orderly adjustments. Dana Nessel, Attorney General v Enbridge Energy, Inc, et al (Ingham Circuit No. 19-474-CE). As alleged in the Complaint, the continued operation of the Straits Pipelines presents an extraordinary and unreasonable risk to public rights, violates the public trust doctrine, constitutes a public nuisance and violates the Michigan Environmental Protection Act, MCL 324.1701, et seq. The case remains pending. While it is obviously not the charge of the UP Energy Task Force or the Report to adopt a position on these legal issues, the Task Force recommendations should take into account the potential for the litigation to result in the shutdown of Line 5 in the near future."

Nessel also warns about potential risk of damage to the pipeline, based on a 2018 anchor strike:

"Second, apart from the pending litigation, the Straits Pipelines are subject to the continuing risk of damage and service interruption though an anchor strike. This risk is very real, as evidenced by the April 2018 incident in which an anchor was dragged across the lakebed striking both pipelines, as well [as] previous incidents involving anchor damage to utility lines at the Straits," Nessel notes.*

UP Energy Task Force member Roman Sidortsov (pictured in the Video Report below) commented on Attorney General Nessel's letter (note that his comment is based on his personal views -- not made on behalf of the UP Energy Task Force -- and it does not in any way reflect the views that other Task Force members might have).

"I would like to thank Ms. Nessel for recognizing the work of the UP Energy Task Force," Sidortsov says. "Relying on a single source of supply for the vast majority of a critically important fuel is a bad idea. As a co-author of the Independent Risk Analysis, I am familiar with this source. Line 5 is 67 years old and 645 miles long, 535 of which are in Michigan. As our study showed, the pipeline is vulnerable, and not just where it crosses the Straits of Mackinac. In this regard, as one of our interviewees described it, the pipeline is one errant backhoe strike away from a disaster, risking tens of thousands UP homes going cold. You do not put all your eggs in one basket and this is precisely what continuing the status quo would amount to.

"In addition, I would like to thank the Attorney General and her staff for the work they are doing to protect the interests of the people of Michigan. Our study showed overwhelming public concern regarding the Line 5 issue, and the work of the AG’s office is exactly what an accountable and effective government should do in serving its people."

Local residents comment on Task Force draft report

According to David Camps, owner of Blue Terra Energy and a member of the UP Energy Task Force, the Task Force recommendations are just the beginning; and the legal battle between Enbridge and the State of Michigan, as well as the follow-up on the Task Force recommendations, as noted by Nessel, will take time.

"The results of this litigation -- along with the potential for extreme weather events, Line 5 or Line 1 failures and increasing competition by oversees markets -- represent risk to the price and availability of our propane supply," Camps commented to Keweenaw Now. "We also have the Covid -19 virus that has disrupted our normal lives and put propane use on the back burner for most consumers. The pandemic will pass and it will get cold and snowy again next fall."

Camps, who is a propane user himself, suggests actions that can be taken by UP propane users to increase resilience of the home or business to propane supply disruptions and price increases. He suggests such measures as tracking one's annual use of propane to prepare for energy efficiency upgrades, keeping the tank full at 50 percent rather than 25 percent, doing an energy audit to identify efficiency needs, improving insulation and weatherization, and adding an alternative form of heat if possible and safe.

"I am a propane user and have done most of these to my home," Camps said. "My annual propane use went from 1200 gallons down to less than 400 gallons and has given us peace of mind with respect to propane disruptions."

Catherine Andrews, a member of FOLK and resident of L'Anse Township in Baraga County, sent the UP Energy Task Force her comments on the draft report on April 6, thanking them for their recommendations and due diligence in their mission. As a propane user herself, Andrews notes the need for regulating the propane industry and expanding consumer protection legislation.

"Price differences of $.30 per gallon for a prepaid contract with individual suppliers might be discouraged," Andrews writes. "Price gouging could be more easily monitored. One supplier who raised rates during the 2013-2014 polar vortex admitted (inadvertently) in 2020 that he did not have a supply shortage during that crisis. With regulation and protections, low income residents could be spared having to pay the highest prices. State contracts could also help stabilize prices.

"A regulatory authority could identify the amount of propane supplied per state or facility to Michigan so the PSC (Public Service Commission) would not have to make assumptions about Michigan’s propane supply. There would also be better data on trucking and rail supply options. When regarding rail, please consider steeper grades and more challenging winter weather conditions in the higher elevations of the western UP."

Andrews concludes by thanking the Task Force for including conservation and energy efficiency in their report.

"As we are evaluating our priorities during the Covid-19 epidemic, it is a good time to focus on our needs vs. our wants. Expanding conservation and energy efficiency is good for everyone and must be available to those with the greatest need. Using hydrocarbons to produce unnecessary plastic is a regrettable mistake and should also be addressed while looking for solutions to our energy challenges," Andrews notes.

Video report: Presentation at Portage Library on phase 1 of UP Energy Task Force work on UP propane supply

On Feb. 22, 2020, at the invitation of FOLK, Task Force members Roman Sidortsov and Jenn Hill presented an unofficial, informal overview and update of the state of propane supply to the Upper Peninsula and potential impacts
of future disruptions. (In this informal presentation, they were not representing the Task Force.)

"Michigan's residential propane use is the highest of any state in the United States," said Hill in her introduction to the overview of propane transport and supply in Michigan.

During a Feb. 22, 2020, presentation at Portage Lake District Library in Houghton, UP Energy Task Force member Jenn Hill uses a map of Michigan to compare propane use in the Upper and Lower peninsulas of the state. (Videos by Keweenaw Now)

Task Force member Roman Sidortsov then joined Hill to explain how propane is produced from natural gas liquids and transported in Michigan from oil sands in Canada.

Roman Sidortsov and Jenn Hill explain how propane comes to the UP from Canada, including the processing in Rapid River, Mich.

Here Sidortsov and Hill point out the international repercussions of transporting natural gas liquids that become propane through Michigan for export from Sarnia in Canada.

Hill presented three possible scenarios that could disrupt the propane supply and their impacts:

Hill speaks about three possible scenarios -- disruption of Line 1, disruption of Line 5 and extreme weather events -- that could impact propane supply to the UP. She also mentions energy efficiency, encourages those in the audience to send comments, and reads from the charter of the UP Energy Task Force.

Sidortsov then pointed out the importance of public comments on this issue, noting as an example the positive effect of public comments on the study led by Michigan Tech, in which he participated, which led to the 2018 report, "Independent Risk Analysis for the Straits Pipelines."

Sidortsov compares Michigan's progressive work on energy to other places he has lived, noting why he is excited about living here. He notes the importance of making public comments to the UP Energy Task Force.

FOLK board member Rosemary Grier told Keweenaw Now Sidortsov and Hill presented "an excellent and informative overview, with updates of our UP energy propane system and opportunities for discussion."

Grier noted several important facts she learned from the presentation:
  • Michigan is more dependent on propane/natural gas liquids(NGLs) than other states.
  • 18 percent of UP residents (herself included) use and depend on propane.
  • Line 5 carries and delivers the majority of NGLs to the UP, coming from Canada on Line 1.
  • There is very limited storage for extra propane in the UP.
  • There are many possibilities for line disruptions.
  • Propane prices will continue to rise to compete with the accelerated production for shipping overseas to primarily make plastics.
  • UP residents need a diversified, affordable, reliable, environmentally sound, and secure system for energy delivery.
"Jenn and Roman encouraged a 'What's next' approach to solving these realities. We need to think creatively when it comes to sound UP energy issues," Grier said. "The current system is not diversified, reliable, secure, ecologically sound, and threatens affordability, especially with our changing climates and increasing global exports."

Grier added her appreciation for Gov. Whitmer's creating the UP Energy Task Force, the public meetings held throughout the UP, and Jenn and Roman's encouragement of public comments and suggestions to the Task Force.

During the question-answer session following the presentation, Linda Rulison, president of FOLK, thanked the speakers and noted FOLK members have attended several of the Task Force meetings and made comments.

Linda Rulison, president of FOLK, thanks Sidortsov and Hill for their presentation and expresses appreciation for the work the UP Energy Task Force is doing. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

After reviewing the analysis and recommendations in the Draft of the UP Energy Task Force Committee Recommendations Part 1 - Propane Supply, FOLK's board of directors sent a letter to the Task Force on April 6 endorsing the Task Force recommendations.**

"We find the balance of consumer, business and government interests to be commendable," FOLK comments. "The UP needs alternatives to the aging Enbridge Line 5, which is an environmental hazard. The citizens of the UP who rely upon propane for heating and other household uses need affordable and reliable energy. We want to avoid the price spikes and lack of propane availability that occurred during the severe winter of 2013-14. With the ability of American gas companies to export liquified natural gas, we are subject to global price fluctuations as well as shortages that could place UP residents in danger. All interested parties throughout the UP were heard by the Committee members.

"We further urge Governor Whitmer to set up a state implementing body to carry out the recommendations and to seek legislative approval for those recommendations where there are gaps in state statutes."

Notes:

* Click here to read Attorney General Dana Nessel's complete Apr. 6 letter to the UP Energy Task Force.

** See the UP Energy Task Force Web site for more information on their work, links to presentations and public meetings, details on making public comments and more.

U.P. Energy Task Force to meet via video conferencing Apr. 13; public urged to participate

During the UP Energy Task Force meeting on Sept. 20, 2019, at Finlandia's Jutila Center in Hancock, representatives of Plains Mainstream Canada, Enbridge, and SEMCO Energy Gas Co. gave presentations on their companies’ roles in supplying propane and natural gas to the U.P. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)*

From: EGLE (Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy)

With recommendations on propane availability in the Upper Peninsula being finalized for submission to Governor Gretchen Whitmer, the U.P. Energy Task Force is launching the second phase of its analysis of the U.P.’s energy needs now and in the future.

The Task Force will meet from 10 a.m. to noon (EDT) on Monday, April 13, using Microsoft Teams video conferencing. The Task Force meeting is being held in accordance with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ recommendations designed to help prevent the spread of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Monday’s meeting is open to the public. To participate, go to Michigan.gov/UPEnergyTaskForce for the Microsoft Teams meeting link or, if participating by phone, a dial-in number and conference ID.

If you would like to share a public comment during the UP Energy Task Force special meeting on April 13, please send an email to EGLE-UPEnergy@Michigan.gov with your name and your intention to share a public comment. Those emails will be collected in order to create a roster and call on members of the public during the public comment section. Members of the public will also have an opportunity to add their name to the public comment roster during the meeting.

The Task Force on Monday will finalize its propane recommendations with a deadline of April 17 to submit the report to the Governor. More than 800 public comments were received. The final recommendations, technical document and appendices will be posted to Michigan.gov/UPEnergyTaskForce.

The Task Force next will begin its discussions about how to fulfill the Governor’s request in her Executive Order to formulate alternative solutions for meeting the U.P.’s energy needs, with a focus on security, reliability, affordability and environmental soundness. The Governor also asked the Task Force to identify and evaluate potential changes that could occur to energy supply and distribution in the U.P.; the economic, environmental and other impacts of such changes; and alternatives for meeting the U.P.’s energy needs due to such changes.

Public feedback is encouraged in a number of ways: comment at Monday’s meeting and future meetings, emailed to EGLE-UPEnergy@Michigan.gov or mailed to U.P. Energy Task Force, c/o Michigan Dept. of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, Attn. James Clift, Deputy Director, P.O. Box 30473, Lansing, MI 48909.

A report on overall U.P. energy issues and alternatives is due by March 31, 2021.

For current and up-to-date information regarding the Coronavirus visit Michigan.gov/Coronavirus or CDC.gov/Coronavirus.

* Editor's Note: Links to videos and slide presentations of the Sept. 20, 2019, meeting of the UP Energy Task Force and their more recent meetings can be found on the Task Force Web site.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Western UP Health Department reports COVID-19 testing totals for Apr. 10

HANCOCK -- The Western Upper Peninsula Health Department (WUPHD) COVID-19 testing report of Friday, Apr. 10, 2020, shows an additional positive case in Gogebic County, bringing the Gogebic total to 4 positives, including one death. Houghton County testing continues to show one positive result, with zero positive tests for the other three counties -- Baraga, Keweenaw and Ontonagon.

WUPHD reports these totals for Apr. 10:

Referred for Testing: Baraga 29, Gogebic 73, Houghton 122, Keweenaw 12, Ontonagon 18, with a total of 254 for the 5 counties.

Tests Canceled*: Baraga 1, Gogebic 2, Houghton 11, Keweenaw 2, Ontonagon 2 -- a 5-county total of 18.

Positives: Baraga 0, Gogebic 4, Houghton 1, Keweenaw 0, Ontonagon 0 -- total of 5 for the counties.

Negatives: Baraga 21, Gogebic 55, Houghton 96, Keweenaw 8, Ontonagon 13 -- a 5-county total of 193.

Tests pending: Baraga 7, Gogebic 12, Houghton 14, Keweenaw 2, Ontonagon 3 -- total 38.

Deaths**: 1 death, Gogebic County.

* Canceled tests are those tests that a healthcare provider decided not to submit after other diagnostic procedures confirmed a different illness or a clinical decision was made to not test after a referral was already assigned to the system. Most canceled tests were done early on in the process. The process has improved and additional guidance is now available to all healthcare providers.

**Deaths are also included in the number of positive tests (they are not additional positives).

Responding to the COVID-19 Crisis: The Making of Vaccines

By Kelley Christensen, Michigan Tech Science and Technology Publications Writer
Posted April 2, 2020, on Michigan Tech News
Reprinted in part with permission


Caryn Heldt, director of the Michigan Tech Health Research Institute and the James and Lorna Mack Chair in Bioengineering, works with graduate student Ashish Saksule in her lab. Heldt and her collaborators are looking at both short-term and long-term solutions to more resilient vaccine manufacturing. (Photo courtesy Michigan Tech University)

HOUGHTON -- New purification methods may streamline the vaccine manufacturing process and make scaling up production easier.

A vaccine for COVID-19 is still being developed -- but when it is available, it will be manufactured in a standard three-step process. First, virus molecules for the vaccine are grown in cell cultures inside bioreactors. Second, the virus molecules are extracted from the cell cultures through a process called purification. Third, the vaccine is stabilized for shipping and storage. Researchers at Michigan Technological University are creating new processes to improve the purification step -- which often accounts for 50 percent to 70 percent of a vaccine’s manufacturing costs.

Current vaccine purification relies on ultracentrifugation, or spinning the cell cultures at high speed until their components separate. With this method, the only way to scale up production is by running 24 hours a day and buying more centrifuges. Caryn Heldt, director of the Michigan Tech Health Research Institute and the James and Lorna Mack Chair in Bioengineering, has studied ways to purify viruses without using ultracentrifugation for more than 15 years -- and her methods could be just as effective, faster and more efficient. ... Click here to read the rest of this article on Michigan Tech News.

Thursday, April 09, 2020

MTU Engineers Build Mobile Unit to Clean COVID-19 PPE

By Allison Mills, Michigan Tech Associate Director of Research News
Posted April 8, 2020, on Michigan Tech News
Reprinted in part with permission

The "hot" side of this Michigan Tech Sanitizer conducts and reflects heat to clean personal protection equipment (PPE); the "cold" side houses the electrical work to control the shipping container’s environment. (Photo © Andrew Barnard and courtesy Michigan Tech University)

HOUGHTON -- A refrigerated shipping container. Commercial-grade baking sheets. A modified oven. These are the key pieces of a prototype that uses heat to sanitize personal protection equipment (PPE).

The idea is simple: Disinfect PPE at temperatures hot enough to break up coronaviruses and do so in a big, moveable oven that can be quickly made with local, off-the-shelf parts that are easy to get and put together. The unit can clean 5,000 to 10,000 PPE units every two hours and can run continuously.

The design is streamlined: Use a thick-walled shipping container with the refrigeration unit swapped for a heating unit run on an electric generator, then line it with stainless steel racks and trays holding PPE, and heat it up to 140-170 degrees Fahrenheit.

The manufacturing is built on community: The parts are all on hand in commercial bakeries, restaurants, HVAC shops, shipping yards and universities -- and could be quickly delivered to hospital and clinic loading docks.

An engineering team from Michigan Technological University tested the prototype in a campus parking lot alongside local company Aire Care. They call it the Mobile Thermal Utility (MTU) Sanitizer. The prototype is now heading downstate for further validation testing. The World Health Organization and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend heat-soaking to eliminate coronaviruses like the one that causes COVID-19. The CDC offers guidelines on temperature ranges and time for effectiveness. ... Click here to read the rest of this article on Michigan Tech News.

Monday, April 06, 2020

UPDATED: Western UP Health Department issues public health advisory to travelers

From: Cathryn A. Beer, Western Upper Peninsula Health Officer

HANCOCK -- The Western Upper Peninsula Health Department (WUPHD) issues the following advisory to protect the health of the public in the five-county region:

Western Upper Peninsula Counties (Baraga, Gogebic, Houghton, Keweenaw, and Ontonagon) are seeing an influx of individuals who are seeking shelter from areas with significant COVID-19 community spread or returning from travel outside of these counties. While we understand the desire to seek shelter in our communities with fewer COVID-19 cases, this potentially poses an unnecessary risk to all residents of the Western Upper Peninsula.

The increased population to the area places a substantial strain on our communities as travelers seek supplies, such as groceries and toiletries, as well as potentially needing health care in the event they become sick. During this public health crisis, many rural communities may not be equipped with personnel, supplies or resources for a surge in population.

If you still choose to travel to your seasonal home or return home from travel, the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department is advising that you abide by the following guidelines:
1. If you are sick, stay at home and do not leave your residence.
2. If you have symptoms suggestive of COVID-19, contact your healthcare provider for assistance.
3. All individuals traveling to seasonal homes or returning home from areas with community spread should
self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival to your destination.
4. Following the 14-day self-quarantine period, please obey the Governor’s "Stay at Home" order and do not go out unless absolutely necessary.*
5. All residents, whether full time or seasonal, should adhere to the Governor’s Stay at Home order and only venture out to obtain essential supplies and services when absolutely necessary. If you do need to go out, please adhere to social distancing protocols and limit the number of people going out for supplies or services.

Also, as campgrounds in the area close, remote camping is not a safe alternative. Remote locations do not offer sanitary conditions, particularly for those who become ill. Weather conditions vary extensively at this time of year. Emergency personnel may not be able to access remote locations.

If you follow these simple guidelines, the risk for spreading COVID-19 lowers significantly, thus protecting everyone who lives, works, and plays in the beautiful Western Upper Peninsula.

To prevent the spread of COVID-19, people should:
• Stay home if they are sick
• Wash their hands frequently
• Avoid close contact with sick people
• Disinfect commonly touched surfaces
• Avoid touching your face; avoid shaking hands
• Follow suggested guidelines for social distancing

WUPHD is working to coordinate their response with federal, state, and local officials, as well as healthcare professionals, institutions, schools and community organizations. A local  COVID-19 informational call line is available Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m.  to 4 p.m. EDT at (906) 487-
5545. There is a State informational hotline available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. EDT seven days per week. That number is 1-888-535-6136. Additional information on COVID-19 can be found on the MDHHS website, or the CDC website.**

UPDATE: Click here for the Apr. 8 Testing Statistics update from the Western Upper Peninsula Health Departmen.

Editor's Notes:

Click here for Gov. Whitmer's "Stay at Home" order (Executive Order 2020-21)

** NEW: CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) now recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission. Click here for the recent announcement.