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Friday, April 24, 2020

Guest article: COP25: Expectations, Surprises and Disappointments

By Adewale Adesanya *

Stage of the "Climate Emergency March" attracts thousands of Spanish residents at Neuvos Ministerios, Madrid, Spain, during the COP25 climate conference. (Photos courtesy Adewale Adesanya unless otherwise indicated)

The 25th conference of parties (COP25) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, held in Madrid, Spain, last December was quite a phenomenon. I am presenting here my unfiltered story of personal experiences as a Michigan Tech University observer attending this global convention for the first time. The event featured official side events, high-level segments, press conferences, action hubs, pavilion events, protests and of course negotiation sessions. Since not all the negotiation meetings were open to non-country delegates (myself included), my observations are based on side events at the COP and those around the city.

Inset photo: Adewale Adesanya, author of this article.

Expectations -- IPCC President’s Opening Report

Going to the COP 25 as a researcher with strong interest in climate change, sustainable energy system development and energy policy, I expected the opening remarks on Dec. 2, 2019, to start with much stronger statements on the status of things around the world -- based on the scientific report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that the world has about a decade to limit global warming below 2 degree Celsius to avoid impending catastrophes. So, I was not expecting a business as usual conference.

Michigan Tech students, from left, Adewale Adesanya, Alexis Pascaris and Shardul Tiwari pause for a photo at COP25 in Madrid. (Photo courtesy Alexis Pascaris)**

Indeed, the opening remarks by IPCC President Hoesung Lee, gave a great start. In his speech, the president announced that there is immediate need for reduction of greenhouse gases (GHGs). He highlighted impending problems that the world could face should the globe warm beyond this temperature -- including stranded assets, threats on food security, increased risk of biodiversity loss -- as well as life on earth being compromised. Passionately, he spoke of the fact that the world is currently not doing enough to tackle this impending catastrophe!

Another point worthy of note is the change in nomenclature from "climate change" to "climate emergency." The emphasis on climate emergency is geared to create awareness of the urgency for collaborative climate action across complex multi-levels of society. The time limit is just 10 years (2030) from now to limit average global temperature to 2 degrees Celsius. For this target to be met, 7.5 percent annual emission reduction by each country is required. Certainly, this is highly ambitious but achievable if all can envision the cost of not meeting this goal. All through the COP 25 meetings, the new nomenclature was referenced and stamped.

Surprises -- My take from negotiations and side events

My first surprise is that many governments are yet to do something substantial, while few countries in Europe are coming up with great urgent plans. For example, Croatia and Greece have planned to phase out coal by 2028 as a means of limiting emissions and global warming. However, plans must be translated into actions. Many previous plans and pledges on Green Climate Financing (GCF) appeared unfulfilled. During one of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) negotiations on (GCF) on Dec. 3, the following were noted:
  • Many confederations are planning to double their contributions while some are yet to make any contribution.
  • EU intends to match 75 percent of its contribution.
  • A Malawi delegate reported that the country was hit by climate related disasters which affected hundreds of people. However, there has been delay by GCF to provide finance for mitigation and adaptation. Sudan, Tanzania and other delegates reported the need for direct and easy access to finance for previous losses and damages as a result of climate change incidents.
  • Welcoming the GCF report, Norway plans to double contributions to GCF.
  • A Bangladesh delegate reported that 4 years is too long to get proposals on GCF from other countries. The delegate asserted that GCF commitment should be strictly followed and replenished without further delay.
  • Canada is proposing to remit $300 million to GCF.
  • Nepal demanded that there must be international cooperation for mitigation.
One of the negotiation sessions of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) at the COP25 blue zone.

In another SBI meeting on Global Environmental Facility (GEF) on Dec. 4, a delegate from Iran reported that projects have not been financed. In the same vein, a Korean delegate reported that no technical or financial support had been received with respect to climate change despite submitted plans.

Some Progress at Local Level

One contributor to the global success of COP 25 is the prominence of local leaders, individuals, local communities, municipalities, counties, corporate organizations and other stakeholders in taking actions beyond the political economy of climate change at the top government level. Some local actions mentioned are as follows:
  • In Slovakia various local communities are bringing about a transformation action plan against coal power plants in the region of Upper Netra.
  • In Romania, six mayors from Jui Valley have signed a memorandum of understanding to implement a just transition partnership to renewable.
  • In Ukraine, out of 33 state-owned coal mines, 29 have been proven not profitable. Ongoing loss of coal jobs is causing a critical need for sustainable substitutes.
  • C40 is a group of 40 cities that have transitioned into fossil fuel free cities through their local leaders, communities, decisions and actions.
Other sessions and side events

Another interesting session was the one organized by the Center for Biodiversity titled "Transportation and Oil: Phasing out diesel engines and their fuel" - By 2030. Panelists in this session presented actions of EU countries like Germany, Norway, etc., to phase out fossil fuel cars. Also mentioned was the issue that no country party of COP has transportation in their goals. Certainly, transportation cannot be left out if the 1.5-degree goal can be achieved before 2030.

In another presentation, one of the panelists mentioned that in West Africa, Cape Verde leads in banning fossil fuel vehicles by 2030. Based on the discussions from this session, it appears that there are small pockets of action by very few countries. It is interesting to see incremental actions along the way; however, those are not sufficient to result in desired solutions to climate emergency.

In one of the press conferences, an organization called German Watch presented a study on "Global Climate Risk Index 2020." According to their research, surprisingly, for the first time in history, three developed countries -- Japan, Germany and Canada -- now rank among the top 10 countries most hit by climate occurrences such as heatwave, extreme heat, drought, flood, etc. While Japan tops this list, Germany and Canada ranked third and ninth of the most affected countries in the 2018 risk assessment. These three countries had absolute losses of US$35 Trillion, US$5 Trillion and US$2 Trillion respectively. The rest in the top 10 are the Philippines, Madagascar, India, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Rwanda and Fiji. Previously, only developing countries topped this list of most affected. The presenters then tried to send a warning signal that the impacts of climate change (emergency) will be equally spread across the global north and south with great losses. They concluded that adequate and prompt mitigation response is required for the future.

Furthermore, Jean Lemire, an envoy for Climate Change, Nordic and Arctic Issues from Quebec, Canada, relayed his personal experience with the reality of climate change. In the session titled "Climate Change Adaptation and Risk in a Context of  Multi-Level Governance," Lemire revealed how fast the ice in the Arctic is melting. He related that in June 2002 he had visited the Arctic on an adventure in a boat virtually surrounded by ice. Twelve years later around the same period (June 2013), he visited the same area again and to his surprise all the ice had melted and many boats were crossing the area. He concluded that the only explanation to this drastic change is continuous warming of the globe.

This in part has been the cause of extreme weather such as the polar vortex, heatwaves, etc. Lemire’s key message was that the impact of climate change must be brought up to mainstream authorities for immediate action and subnational governments must all work together to fight it.

At the U.S. pavilion, there were strong discussions on how America is still in on climate action despite what is happening in the White House. This was emphasized in several discussions including panelists from different places in the U.S. who talked about how their organizations and government are supporting actions on sustainability. It is surely good news and a glimpse of hope to see grassroots and stakeholder actions despite federal government disconnection with the Paris Agreement.

One of the sessions at the U.S. Climate Action pavilion in the blue zone of COP25. The panelists from different states include, from left, Rob Fohr of the Presbyterian Church, Rachel Wenger of Common Spirit Health, Ashley Allen of Mars, Wisconsin Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes, Ani Alexander of Salesforce and President Mark Matsui of Portland Community College.

Another discussion at this pavilion was Virginia Climate Action, where state, city and organizational level targets were discussed. For instance, at state level, there is carbon regulation which targets 30 percent CO2 reduction in the electric sector between 2021 and 2030. While Arlington county has set greenhouse gas emission reduction of 75 percent by 2050, Richmond is reported to have set 80 percent for the same period as it transitions to 100 percent renewable electricity. Universities and business organizations are also following suit in these targets.

Michigan Tech students present sustainability research

Several campus sustainability initiatives were presented by a consortium of U.S. and Australian universities, including Michigan Tech, Colorado State University, and Clark University. During one of their press conferences, Michigan Tech researchers spoke about the Sustainability Demonstration House on Michigan Tech's campus. Other reports included the Aldo Leopold Foundation headquarters in Fairfield, Wis., and an ongoing research case study in Illinois about food, energy and water connection. These empirical cases represent how corporate organizations, individual households and communities can take actions.

Adewale Adesanya, third from left, and other Michigan Tech students speak about sustainability research during a panel discussion with students from other universities in the U.S. and Australia.

Disappointment: Climate Action March with Greta Thunberg

Indigenous people were massively active at the COP25, demanding immediate action. On Friday, Dec. 6, over 500,000 people were reported to have participated in a climate action march repeating the slogan "ACTUA AHORA" (Act Now) The march, led by indigenous youths and community members, featured the young global climate action advocate Greta Thunberg, who spoke passionately about how our leaders have failed us and about the need for every individual and community to take definite grassroots action.

Participants in the Dec. 6, 2019, climate march display a banner, "Salvemos el Planeta," (Let's Save the Planet). (Photo courtesy Alexis Pascaris)

The next day, there was a procession for over a thousand victims of climate disasters. It was a sober, reflective and emotional moment as many of them were adjudged to be father, mother, sons and daughters of other people. However, it appears that protests and processions like these have become a norm and are taken with grain of salt. It is particularly disappointing that protests were planned as an integral part of the whole as usual, suggesting that they are now perceived as ordinary ceremonies attracting little or no attention.

Looking forward to COP26 ...

My take from this conference will rest on the positive side of what to expect in the near future as far as reaching the 2030 target is concerned. It is simply continuous grassroots actions! This will count a lot and can perhaps lead to substantial bottom-up policy changes. The role of the U.S. is very central; and, irrespective of federal government policies, state and local action can give the win. The struggle continues, the clock continues to tick towards 2030 and every day without a progressive step should be seen as failure. Hopefully, there will be better news at COP26, scheduled for November 2020 in Glasgow, Scotland!

Editor's Notes:

* Adewale Adesanya, author of this article, is a Michigan Tech doctoral student in environmental and energy policy. See also his student research blog, "The Road to COP25," written in preparation for attending the climate conference. Find him on Twitter: @EngrAdewale.

** This is the second in a series of two Keweenaw Now articles on Michigan Tech's observer team at the COP25 conference in Madrid. See the first article, "Michigan Tech observer team at COP25, Madrid: A perspective," by Shardul Tiwari, posted Apr. 21, 2020. Thanks to Alexis Pascaris, Michigan Tech MS student in environmental and energy policy, for sharing some of her photos of COP25. See Alexis's research blog describing her COP25 experience, "COP25: We Are the Solution."

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Guest article: Michigan Tech observer team at COP25, Madrid: A perspective

By Shardul Tiwari *

Thousands participate in a climate strike during the COP25 climate summit in Madrid. (Photos courtesy Shardul Tiwari)

The 25th annual United Nations climate change conference held under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), colloquially referred to as COP25, is a conference as interlaced as this sentence with the bureaucratic jargon of an intergovernmental organization.

The Climate of Parties (COP) is an annual event where official parties who are signatory to the Paris agreement come together to set, negotiate and operationalize the goals for all the parties to help limit the global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius of the pre-industrial level. These parties are primarily the countries and unions of countries like the European Union which collectively negotiate and set mutually agreed goals towards sustainable development.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are one of many examples which can be considered as outcomes of these events. This leads to a relevant question: If the countries are negotiating for these goals then what are students (like me), scientists, non-governmental organizations, activists, and indigenous people doing at this event? A climate skeptic would say: raising the carbon footprint. I respectfully disagree.

Inset photo: Shardul Tiwari, author of this article.

COP25 is a melting pot for climate change advocates, activists, decision-makers, scientists and even climate change skeptics. It provides a platform to various non-state actors, scientists, indigenous groups and youth-led groups to present and engage in the negotiations.

The 2019 voluminous conference, held during the first two weeks of December in Madrid, was attended by over 26,000 people participating in multiple events. I was privileged to attend COP25 as part of a group of observers from Michigan Tech University. From my experience of the event, I can summarize the event as divided into "categories."

This year’s COP had five predominant categories for the event. The first four categories were in the Blue Zone and the fifth category was in the Green Zone. The Green Zone was open to everyone and mainly included cultural events and companies with booths, and the Blue Zone was an official negotiation zone -- at least eight times larger than the Green Zone, based on my crude estimates.

Blue Zone categories

The first category consists of the general sessions which primarily include the Plenary sessions: opening, closing, midsession events presenting us with keynote speeches and panel discussions. For instance, even though I was at COP, I watched the opening session on television like people sitting at home because there were limited seats in the conference hall.

The second category is the activism, in which, as official observers, we students from Michigan Tech had a limited role since the United Nations takes this activism inside the COP venue very seriously. However, it would be wrong not to mention that it played a significant role at the COP25 as it does in overall climate change negotiations. The highlight of the event for this year’s COP was Greta Thunberg’s climate change march in Madrid and protest outside COP venue. The event was marked by remarkable energy and people asserting that we need to act now to mitigate climate change!!

Climate activist Greta Thunberg speaks to a large audience during the COP25 climate conference in Madrid. Click on YouTube icon for larger view. (Video © and courtesy Bruce Woodry)

The third category includes the official negotiations that are happening for various articles, sections, and subsections of the Paris agreement. Negotiations for various articles happen in parallel; hence a person has to choose their area of interest or research to follow the negotiations. This is the event where the documents are discussed, agreed and thwarted by the parties who do not agree to the terms. The event is open to observers "provided" all the official parties agree to the open sessions.

This session is in sharp contrast to the activism I discussed above. Attention to details in negotiation means it runs at a much slower speed than that desired by activists. However, it is important for students to observe both and learn the difference between official negotiation and activism. Observing negotiations makes students aware of the challenges of bringing 193 parties together, agreeing to every small detail and implementing the actions.

The fourth and one of the most important categories for students and young researchers is what are called "side events." Side events and press conferences are places where research organizations, NGOs, and development organizations can present the research work done in almost all the core science and allied fields of global climate change -- such as climate change policies, energy policy, transportation policies, and sustainable development.

Students and young researchers prepare for one of the "side events" during the COP25 conference in Madrid. 

I participated in the side events as part of a team of students from Michigan Tech, Colorado State University, and Clark University. We presented the group work on the role of universities and students toward implementing SDGs. The fourth category had a spectrum of events ranging from how scientists are presenting research on swiftly melting snowcaps that are leading to a global crisis to how spirituality can help humans deal with this time of crisis.

The experience of COP is a valuable one for the young researcher interested in climate change and global policies because one of the most important skills a scientist can gain is to learn how to communicate this science to the public and policymakers. By providing that platform, COP is a hotspot for researchers sharing their knowledge across a plethora of fields from global hunger to water pollution. It is one of the largest platforms for negotiations and, more importantly, for communicating science to the public.

Michigan Tech's observer team

Our team members included scientists, professors, young researchers and renewable energy entrepreneurs.

Members of Michigan Tech's team of observers at COP25 are pictured here, from right: Bruce Woodry, Shardul Tiwari, Adewale Adesanya, Dr. Sarah Green, and Alexis Pascaris. Other team members, not pictured, included William Lytle, Jessica Daiganault, Kenny Larson and Karuna Rana.

Dr. Sarah Green, Michigan Tech professor of chemistry, who led our team, serves as co-vice chair for the Scientific Advisory Panel on the Sixth Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-6), United Nations Environment Programme. Dr. Green said she was enthralled to see a number of talented people focused on the issues and overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem and its multifaceted impacts.

"COP to me was a cauldron of activity where global citizens from science, government, and business sectors churn ideas into policies and projects to respond to our rapidly changing climate," Green said. "I was impressed at how well Michigan Tech students engaged with the COP. Some tracked specific issues; some connected with students from other institutions; others met with representatives from specific countries or NGOs; everyone met somebody new and gained new perspectives. I believe voices from youth, indigenous peoples, and students are increasing pressure for action; that pressure must be sustained if it is to effect the change in global energy policies required to stabilize the climate."**

Michigan Tech Alumni Bruce Woodry -- investment banker, developer of renewable energy projects, engineer, father, and grandfather -- is also a climate activist. Woodry said he was honored and pleased to attend COP25 with the Michigan Tech group.

"One of the highlights for me was the honor of meeting the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN body for assessing the science related to climate change, who spoke for some length with some of the group chairs," Woodry said. "The science is rock solid and irrefutable… and depressing. At the Madrid climate strike on December 6th, which I attended along with an estimated 500,000 others, there were two faces in the crowd: sad and angry. Climate strikes, while contributing to climate crisis awareness, are not moving the needle. We need to take immediate and bold action to avert (mitigate) the most severe effects of the climate crisis. This is not a democratic party issue, not a republican party issue, it is a humanity issue. The earth will survive just fine -- it’s rocks and water. But all living things, including humans, are at risk. If you are not fearful of the future of humanity for our kids and grandkids, you should be."

Clara Mosso, from Argentina, a PhD student in Ecology at Colorado State University and a former Fulbright scholar at the University of Florida, said she considered COP25 a great platform for collaboration and a learning opportunity.

The team from three universities after a morning meeting included, from right, Julia Young, Tsanta Rakotoarisoa, Clara Mosso, Shardul Tiwari, and Claire Carver.

"I felt this was a great opportunity to collaborate with students from different universities and was a great networking opportunity … to learn about the multilateral negotiation process," Mosso said. "I chose SDG 5 of gender equality because I was shocked to experience and learn the extent of gender inequality that persists in higher education."

Natalie Hodgman, also a student at Colorado State University, said her interest in environmental policy and in interactions between different stakeholders led to her decision to attend COP25.

"I decided to attend COP because of my interest in environmental policy and my interest in interactions between different stakeholders and parties," Hodgman noted. "I wanted to know how countries would pressure each other to commit [to] more ambitious goals to achieve climate solutions. While my observations have shown that interactions are less fiery than I thought, I have had a wonderful time at COP, and I am very thankful to learn from so many well-renowned figures. I chose SDG 13 because I was interested in the links between adaptation and mitigation strategies and actions."

Katarina Hou, a master’s student of Environment Science and Policy at Clark University, said she was delighted to receive the opportunity to represent her University at COP. Her drive to work for gender equality and gender representation at the climate negotiation process led her to COP25.

Additional university team participants are pictured here, from right: Kortni Wroten, Ryan Kopper, Aswira Pasha, Katarina Hou and Isaac Stone.

"I decided to attend the COP because I was really curious about the international climate negotiations process," Hou said. "I chose SDG 7 on affordable and clean energy and SDG 5 on gender equality for my research. I joined SDG 5 because gender is a cross-cutting component in all aspects. You cannot have a just policy without gender equality because gender rights are also human rights as well. Throughout the COP, I've followed Gender and Climate Change negotiation, sitting in the same meeting room as Parties delegates and taking notes. It was a very interesting experience to witness how negotiations proceed -- which delegate speaks more and what they are asking for. I've also noticed that the dynamics of each issue of negotiation feels quite different. After spending about 10 days at the COP, the ugly reality set in where I felt there was a disconnect between the negotiations and the world (activists) that are demanding more ambitious actions. It was disheartening to see that, but at the same time I was hopeful that we are still giving it a fight because it matters."

The United Nations’ climate summit is one of the biggest and arguably the most important platform to keep the argument of climate change at the forefront of policy making. It is not a perfect platform, in fact far from it; however, it is an important platform that can be further strengthened by upcoming young scientists, policy makers and researchers. Hence it is imperative to learn about the system to further improve it and subsequently grow with it. Actively participating in these mega events is a learning experience and a first step towards approaching the multifacted challenge of climate change adaptation and mitigation.

Editor's Notes:

* Shardul Tiwari, author of this article, is a Michigan Tech doctoral student in environmental and energy policy. This is the first in a series of two Keweenaw Now articles on the Michigan Tech observer team at the COP25 climate conference in Madrid. Watch for the second article, by Adewale Adesanya, also a Michigan Tech doctoral student in environmental and energy policy, coming soon.

** Dr. Sarah Green will present "International Climate Action: Report from the 25th UN Conference of the Parties (COP25)" during the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition's (UPEC's) Celebrate the UP! 2020 (Virtually), from 6:30 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. Saturday, Apr. 25. The program of guest speakers will be livestreamed from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. this Saturday on UPEC's Facebook and YouTube pages. Click here for details.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

U.P. Energy Task Force submits propane recommendations to Gov. Whitmer

This map, from the Upper Peninsula Energy Task Force Committee Recommendations: Part I -- Propane Supply, submitted to Gov. Whitmer on Apr. 17 by the U.P. Energy Task Force, shows the residential use of propane as a primary heating source, by county, in Michigan. Click on image for larger size. (Photo from U.S. Census Bureau courtesy Michigan.gov)

LANSING -- On Friday, Apr. 17, 2020, the U.P. Energy Task Force submitted to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer its 14 recommendations on propane availability in the Upper Peninsula. The report, Upper Peninsula Energy Task Force Committee Recommendations: Part I – Propane Supply, has been posted online at Michigan.gov/UPEnergyTaskForce.*

"The report encapsulates hundreds of hours of discussion and work and includes important public input regarding affordable energy in the Upper Peninsula," said Liesl Clark, chair of the Task Force and director of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE). "The Task Force looks forward to working with the Legislature and stakeholders on these common-sense ideas designed to protect U.P. propane customers."

Liesl Clark, center, chair of the U.P. Energy Task Force and director of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), opens the Sept. 20, 2019, meeting of the Task Force held at the Jutila Center in Hancock. Also pictured here at the same table are Mike Prusi, far left, U.P. Energy Task Force vice chair, and Task Force member Roman Sidortsov, far right, Michigan Tech assistant professor of Energy Policy. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)**

The U.P. Energy Task Force received more than 800 public comments on the draft recommendations and more than 1,000 total comments since it began meeting last July. An appendix to the report is a technical document, prepared for the Task Force by Public Sector Consultants (PSC), which explains how propane markets are changing across the country and explores how those markets might react to a propane disruption.

"We all know that there are unique challenges in the U.P. when it comes to energy and I appreciate Gov. Whitmer’s recognition of the issue and her desire to find possible solutions," said Mike Prusi, vice-chair of the U.P. Energy Task Force. "The Task Force encourages legislators and state agencies to take quick action on our recommendations so the region’s residents and businesses can be confident that any potential disruption in energy availability won’t mean a huge hit to their budgets."

The recommendations to the Legislature:
  • Explore creation of a customer storage incentive program designed to encourage propane retailers and their customers to work together to maximize the amount of propane in customer storage at the beginning of and throughout the heating season.
  • Explore a wholesalers and retailers storage incentive program to encourage wholesalers and retailers to create more propane storage capacity. In order to avoid creating a disadvantage for companies that made early investments in this area, the incentive could be designed to focus on the relationship between a company’s annual sales and its storage capacity.
  • Review the Freight Economic Development Program to determine if any program revisions are needed to encourage greater capacity for receiving propane delivery by rail and diversifying our supply infrastructure to protect Michigan consumers. Because of the lead time necessary to expand rail infrastructure, action on this recommendation should be taken as soon as is practicable.
  • Increase LIHEAP funding for weatherization to help reduce long-term resource burdens imposed upon low-income customers to pay utility bills.
  • Engage the Michigan Propane Gas Association about the potential of levying a small surcharge on propane fuel to target an Energy Waste Reduction/weatherization program focused on propane users in Michigan. This program could be operated in a manner similar to the State’s Energy Waste Reduction program administrator for those utilities that choose to not run their own programs. 
  • Establish a fund designated to pay for the weatherization program deferral home repair and mitigation measures needed to make a residence eligible for federal, state, and utility-sponsored weatherization assistance when utility-sponsored weatherization assistance includes the major measures of air sealing and/or insulation.
  • Explore adopting fuel price gouging legislation, using the Wisconsin law as a potential model. The legislation should apply to both wholesalers and retailers of propane and ensure that the prices charged to customers reflect the actual costs incurred by propane providers plus a reasonable and customary profit.
The recommendations to the Department of Technology, Management and Budget:
  • Explore whether the state could contract for propane in a manner that would create the equivalent of a strategic propane reserve that would be available in a timely manner in case of a disruption.
  • Work with the Department of Health and Human Services to determine, in its implementation of assistance programs, if the state could contract for propane in such a way as to have a resident’s tank filled on a state account and therefore potentially at a lower cost. In implementing this recommendation, the state should recognize and work within existing contractual arrangements of the customer.
  • Explore whether it can revise the method by which it contracts for propane, to potentially go beyond just serving to supply state facilities, and provide other benefits associated with added storage capacity or serving low-income residents eligible for bill payment assistance as discussed in other portions of this report.
The recommendation to the Department of Transportation:
  • Pursue a State Planning and Research project that would include a survey of U.P. railroad companies to better understand their capabilities with regard to propane delivery and storage. The SPR project should also include ratings/classifications of railroad lines and spurs and needed upgrades to facilitate improved propane distribution in the Upper Peninsula. MDOT, in collaboration with the Railroad Companies, should provide a summary of the survey results and recommendations regarding needed rail line upgrades to the Michigan Legislature.
In their Analysis of Propane Supply Alternatives for Michigan, Public Sector Consultants (PSC) worked with MDOT to develop cost estimates for a potential new rail line serving the Rapid River facility, which now receives, from Enbridge Line 5, NGLs (Natural Gas Liquids) to be turned into propane, estimated to be 87.6 percent of the Upper Peninsula’s propane demand. This map, from p. 102 of the Task Force report (pdf p. 132), shows a possible extension of rail service to the Rapid River facility from the existing Canadian National rail line that runs south of the facility along U.S. Highway 2. PSC estimates costs for extending rail service to the Rapid River facility to be $6.5 to $10 million and estimates the incremental cost per gallon of propane delivered by rail would range from a low-end of $0.04 to $0.06 per gallon. On the high end, costs per gallon would range from $0.07 to $0.10 per gallon.

The recommendations to Public Service Commission:
  • Identify and monitor factors that can cause or contribute to a propane shortage or disruption that could potentially affect Michigan customers. In addition, develop specific steps that would be taken by the state in response to warning signs they are monitoring. To the extent that identified significant factors are not required to be reported to a government agency, the MPSC should make recommendations to the Legislature or the appropriate agency of the nature of the information and the value of potentially requiring additional disclosure. In addition, if the MPSC has sufficient information but no authority to take necessary actions, it should make a recommendation to the Legislature regarding the need and value of additional authority.***
  • Require one standard application for use by all regulated utilities for customers seeking energy waste reduction, weatherization and/or bill payment assistance and to the extent possible require utilities that serve the same location to harmonize both their eligibility requirements and the deployment of their energy waste reduction programs.
The recommendation to the Department of Health and Human Services:
  • Review assistance programs to determine if more families in need could be identified earlier under current self-sufficiency programs and their support crafted to allow them to participate in lower cost budget plans offered by propane retailers, thus reducing the numbers of families which then need to rely on the SER program for family in crisis.
The Task Force will now launch its next phase of work, which was outlined in the Governor’s Executive Order: Formulate alternative solutions for meeting the U.P.’s energy needs, with a focus on security, reliability, affordability and environmental soundness; and identify and evaluate potential changes that could occur to energy supply and distribution in the U.P., the impact of the changes and alternatives for meeting the U.P.’s energy needs.

The public can address those topics by emailing comments to EGLE-UPEnergy@Michigan.gov.

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

Follow the activities of the U.P. Energy Task Force at Michigan.gov/UPEnergyTaskForce.

Editor's Notes:

* Click here to go directly to the pdf document of the report.

** A video of the Sept. 20, 2019, meeting of the U.P. Energy Task Force in Hancock, is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EbDFELYuHfQ&feature=youtu.be
Links to presentations from that meeting and other meetings of the Task Force are available here.

*** From the Executive Summary of this report: "One of the primary objectives for the task force is to develop a plan for the state’s propane supply in the event of a major disruption, such as the shutdown of the Line 5 pipeline that crosses the Straits of Mackinac....Issues related to Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline have garnered significant attention over the past five years, including a number of studies assessing the pipeline’s safety, alternatives to the existing pipeline span crossing the Straits of Mackinac, the environmental impacts of a pipeline failure, and the impacts the disruption or closure of the pipeline would have on Michigan residents. This report does not seek to address the same questions posed in these earlier research efforts or to take issue with prior assessments; instead the State of Michigan has provided PSC with a clear directive: "Identify alternative approaches to meeting the propane needs of Michigan’s residents and businesses." (State of Michigan, 2019)

"Given the amount of information already compiled on this subject, PSC’s study sought to leverage existing research and to expand on the collective understanding of how Michigan can prepare itself in the event of future propane supply disruptions. This study does not attempt to address the questions related to the operation or safety of Enbridge’s Line 5, nor does it consider the potential impacts of various spill scenarios. Instead the study focuses on the options available to supply the state with required propane volumes under three potential supply disruption scenarios."

These three scenarios, as pointed out in our videos of the Portage Library presentation included in our April 11, 2020, article Attorney General Nessel comments on UP Energy Task Force Report on Propane, urges prompt planning to prepare for shutdown of Enbridge Line 5, are potential disruption of Line 1, potential disruption of Line 5, and extreme weather events. See pp. 63-66 (pdf pp. 93-96) of the Task Force report on these three scenarios.