Viewpoint: BWL’s plan for new natural gas plant doesn’t contradict clean energy goals

June 13, 2024 | by

The Lansing Board of Water & Light (BWL) has long been committed to delivering reliable clean energy. Nationally, there’s an urgency of transitioning to renewable energy sources while also delicately balancing the demand for increased electric generation to power a growing number of data centers, more electric vehicles on the road, and electric heat becoming more popular.

The BWL has a long history of making good, environmentally conscious energy decisions that are in the best interest of our customers. As the general manager, I take pride in advancing our ambitious internal goals of delivering 50 percent clean energy by 2030 and being carbon neutral by 2040.

I want to be clear to our customers − we’re still on track to meet these goals, making BWL a utility leader in Michigan. My preference would be to rely solely on renewable energy sources like wind and solar for our energy needs – they’re a clean energy resource that have minimal operating costs once constructed. But the reality is that the sun doesn’t always shine, the wind doesn’t always blow, and current battery storage technology can only discharge for about four hours. However, our community needs a reliable energy resource that’s ready every hour of every day.

As a local, public power utility, it’s critical we balance sustainability, affordability and reliability. BWL’s energy decisions are always accessible to the public – including our recently announced 650-megawatt clean energy portfolio after seeking proposals for all types of energy resources. We received 96 offers from a variety of developers, including bids for renewable energy, battery storage, demand response programs, a baseload natural gas-fired turbine plant, and Reciprocating Internal Combustion Engine, or RICE, gas plant. BWL selected 260MW of solar, 230MW of wind and up to 160MW of battery storage along with the 110MW RICE plant after management presented to the BWL Board of Commissioners, regarding the need for increased load generation, on nearly a dozen separate occasions dating back to December 2021.

RICE engines are designed to provide support during times of fluctuating renewable energy that occur from cloud cover or loss of wind speed. They’re not intended to operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year like a typical natural gas plant, but instead cycle on and off for short periods to ensure grid stability and support the energy provided from intermittent resources like wind and solar.

The BWL recognizes state and federal air quality standards and the importance of protecting both public health and the environment – and the new RICE plant is no exception. While natural gas has been considered a cleaner alternative to coal, it’s not without environmental impacts. As a responsible utility company, we’re committed to minimizing reliance on natural gas in favor of cleaner, renewable energy sources when they’re available. It’s also why we’ve added more customer programs designed to reduce our customer’s carbon footprint, such as the recently announced Peak Power Partner demand response program and BWL’s suite of Electrification Rebates.

Lansing Board of Water and Light General Manager Dick Peffley poses for a portrait in his office Tuesday, March 7 2023,

I’m incredibly proud of the work we’ve done to be leaders in becoming a cleaner, greener utility for the people of Greater Lansing. The BWL has always been committed to setting a high standard in Michigan, being the first utility in the state to develop a renewable energy portfolio before mandated and continuing to meet the renewable energy portfolio standards in Michigan’s clean energy legislation. Our comprehensive energy portfolio strategy is what will allow us to continue to deliver the safe, reliable and affordable utility services our customers have come to know and expect.

Dick Peffley is general manager of the Lansing Board of Water & Light.

This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: Lansing BWL’s plan for natural gas plant in line with energy goals


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