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BWL customers oppose natural gas-fired plant proposal, but utility presses on

The Lansing Board of Water & Light's proposed natural gas plant would be located at the utility's Delta Energy Park where the Erickson Power Station is located.
Courtesy of the Lansing Board of Water & Light
The Lansing Board of Water & Light's proposed natural gas plant would be located at the utility's Delta Energy Park where the Erickson Power Station is located.

Lansing Board of Water and Light customers are telling state environmental regulators to reject the utility’s request to install a new natural gas-fired plant.

About 50 people participated in a Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) virtual public hearing Wednesday night to discuss the plan. However, officials said they cannot take public sentiment into consideration in their decision on whether to authorize the plant.

BWL says the proposed natural gas facility, set to be installed at the Erickson Power Station, is needed to meet future energy demand. The request is prompted by population growth, according to the utility, and the forthcoming Ultium Cellselectric vehicle battery plant in Delta Township.

During the meeting, several residents and BWL customers raised their objections to using a power source that would release more than 500,000 tons of carbon emissions every year.

“The proposed gas plant would emit serious pollutants including particulate matter and greenhouse gasses at a time when utilities should be reducing greenhouse gas emissions to avert climate change and comply with state law,” said Dusty Horwitt, a former utility commissioner.

Horwitt, who served on the BWL commission as it first considered the natural gas project, claims the utility’s details of the project have been clouded by a lack of transparency.

“This highly unusual process raises serious questions about whether the Board of Water and Light would protect the public by operating within the terms of the permit,” he said.

EGLE officials started the Zoom meeting by addressing the public’s written questions. Many asked for details on the agency’s computer modelling which was used to quantify the plant’s expected emissions in a “worst case scenario.”

“We are assuming that each engine is going to run 24/7, 365 days a year,” said Thomas Hercula, an engineer with EGLE’s Air Quality Division, to explain the agency’s calculation.

“They are permitted to run up to 8,760 hours per year, but the facility doesn’t anticipate they will run that way.”

Hercula said EGLE does not have a set greenhouse gas threshold for the project and is relying on the utility’s projection for carbon emissions. Regulators expect the facility will fall within acceptable pollution levels.

The state considers BWL's Delta Energy Park, a natural gas facility adjacent to the decommissioned Erickson Power Station, a “major source of air pollutants.” The utility’s plan to establish six reciprocating internal combustion engines, also known as a RICE plant, next to the energy park falls under a separate air quality permitting agreement.

In response to questions about the state’s consideration of vulnerable populations living near the proposed power station, officials say Michigan does not follow federal guidelines meant to protect minority populations and low-income communities.

“We don’t have an environmental justice policy here in the state," said Jenifer Dixon, a policy coordinator with EGLE. “We’re not allowed to consider that when making our decision.”

EGLE inspectors say they are required to inspect the site once every other year but could monitor the facility more frequently during utility-led testing.

Addressing concerns about pollution oversight, regulators say the project is not expected to yield additional air quality monitoring in the Lansing area, though a second air quality monitor system is coming to the city in 2027.

“But that does not have any impact based on this permit,” said EGLE’s Erica Wolf. “It was strictly because the population of Lansing exceeded a threshold, and we needed to put another monitor in.”

Following an hour of questions and answers, several community members spoke against permitting the RICE plant during a public comment period, citing concerns over climate change and harmful health impacts.

“I recognize that EGLE has to permit the law as it’s written. I am just concerned that our environmental laws in Michigan are not adequate to protect air quality and water quality and public health,” said BWL customer Mike Smalligan.

EGLE is accepting comment on BWL's proposed RICE plant through May 14 through the following channels:

  • By email: to EGLE-aqd-ptipubliccomments@michigan.gov
  • By voicemail: to 517-284-0900
  • By mail: Michigan Department of the Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), Air Quality Division, Permit Section Manager, P.O. Box 30260, Lansing, Michigan 48909-7760

The Lansing Board of Water and Light is a financial supporter of WKAR.

Updated: May 3, 2024 at 10:22 AM EDT
Eli Newman is assistant news director and editor. He works with the WKAR news and digital content teams to facilitate the creation of meaningful and thought-provoking multimedia news content for WKAR Public Media.
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