DETROIT (AP) — State records show a Detroit solid-waste incinerator has exceeded pollution emission rules more than 750 times over the last five years.
A Detroit Free Press analysis of state reports found nearly 200 instances since 2015 where Detroit Renewable Power was exceeding pollution limits with a variety of harmful chemicals.
Records show more than 50 instances since 2015 where Detroit Renewable Power didn’t meet standards after the Department of Environmental Quality investigated complaints of odors or performed independent odor reviews.
Trash burned at the facility creates electricity and steam used by buildings in downtown Detroit.
Pollutants that are under scrutiny at the incinerator are carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter or fine dust and nitrogen oxides. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says they have the potential to harm human health and damage the environment.
But the state agency didn’t label most of the incinerator’s incidents as violations. Many were dismissed because the pollution event was a minimal percentage of the incinerator’s overall emissions.
A consent order last year cited the incinerator for only eight pollution incidents from 2015 and 2016, the Free Press reported. The penalty was $149,000.
“That’s really the tool we have to try to bring them into compliance,” said Todd Zynda, the Department of Environmental Quality’s incinerator inspector.
Zynda acknowledged that the regulatory process isn’t reducing the incinerator’s odor and pollution incidents.
“It’s kind of mind-boggling — people are just blown away,” said Kathryn Savoie, Detroit community health director for The Ecology Center in Ann Arbor. “They violate the law. Then they get to sit and negotiate how much they should be fined.”
Detroit Renewable Power officials said the company operates in compliance with federal, state and local permits. But it regrets nearly three dozen violation notices since 2015.
“We are working to be better and seeking opportunities to improve our practices to be a good neighbor in our community,” the company said.
Information from: Detroit Free Press, http://www.freep.com
It once was the affluent “City of Trees,” where Henry Ford built Model Ts and Chrysler Corp. got its start.
Today, Highland Park officials are looking to honor that past while building a new future as the 2.9-square-mile city, located inside the city of Detroit, celebrates its centennial.
From lighting the city with solar-powered streetlights and creating sustainable, “eco-friendly” community spaces, a number of forward-thinking Highland Parkers are paving the way to the city’s future.
Incorporated as a city in 1918, Highland Park has survived a rocky history. Hit by the departure of automotive companies that stunted its tax base, the city has also struggled with maintaining its schools, businesses and infrastructure.
Dutch elm disease ravaged its lush canopy of trees.
Moving forward, there’s a lot of hope and a strong push for change being driven by community members working on projects geared toward addressing need and sustainability.
Highland Park Director of Public Works Willie Faison said the city’s official centennial celebration committee is in the process of hanging 100 banners down Woodward Avenue to celebrate.
Additionally, Faison said they’ve been working on setting up everything from a music festival and basketball game to health fairs.
“The city has changed, the demographics have changed … but I know the diversity is coming back,” he said. “As we continue to clean the city up, it is going to increase the tax base and as the tax base increases, we’ll be able to give more services to the residents.
“The future of highland park is very, very, very bright.”
Here’s a look at the projects aiming to take Highland Park forward over the next 100 years:
Mama Shu’s Avalon village
After her 2-year-old son, Jakobi, was killed by a hit-and-run driver in 2007, Shamayim Harris, also known as Mama Shu, decided she was going to go ahead and “build a village” on Avalon Street.
This vision of a village is a sprawling collection of houses and structures where community members can find a number of resources, from a place to do homework to a place to do business.
She bought the first house in May 2008 and simultaneously created a park in her son’s honor on some vacant, blighted land.
The village grew from there and became a place that fosters community and addresses a need — it’s a place for kids to find safe after-school activities, somewhere there’s food and washing machines and stoves for people that don’t have those things at home.
“Eventually just built and built,” she said. “We did a big kickstarter to initiate the big building of the village and then we started buying property — $300, $500 homes from foreclosures and state of Michigan land bank and things like that.”
Harris said they raised $243,691 in private contributions from people across the county through the kickstarter and donations from other foundations, like the Big Sun Foundation, created by members of the band Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.
From there, Harris went from creating a space for kids to do schoolwork at just one house to expanding rapidly.
She said they aim to have a fully completed “Homework House” by September.
They also have a structure called the Goddess Marketplace, an economic initiative for female entrepreneurs made out of a shipping container.
There, Harris said, they havespace to come and sell their wares, without having to worry about any costs that come with selling in commercial spaces.
Going forward, Harris said other plans include building a cafe, greenhouse and adding other shipping container structures for holistic businesses.
The aim is to have the village, which now spans four blocks and 35 homes, completed by 2020, Harris said. Harris said the ultimate aim is to transform it into an eco-friendly space.
Soulardarity is an effort to bring community-owned, solar-powered street lighting to Highland Park after DTE Energy repossessed two-thirds of the city’s street lights in 2011.
“All of our work is around this idea of energy democracy. That is the idea that people who are impacted by decisions about our energy system should be the ones at the table making them,” Executive Director Jackson Koeppel said.
Koeppel said they don’t manufacture streetlights. Instead, they work with Michigan-based solar street lighting companies.
He calls these street lights, “the connective tissue for a smart city approach.”
The first light was installed in 2012 at 150 Victor Street. At the time it was an auto shop but now is owned by local radio station WHPR-FM (88.1).
The second light went up at Avalon Village, and Koeppel said they just applied for a grant to do a full block of smart streetlights with her.
And they recently installed their seventh street light at Parker Village, a “smart village” headed by Juan Shannon.
They’ve also put a proposal together in collaboration with the Southeast Michigan Regional Energy Office in 2016 and have been advocating for the city to do 1,000 “smart” street lights that are equipped with integrated WiFi and other services, Koeppel said.
Shannon acquired the former Thompson Elementary School at 181 E. Buena Vista in winter 2015 while looking for a new home for his multimedia company — Modern Tribe Communications.
Soon after, he developed the concept for a “smart neighborhood” and set off to create Parker Village — a community center that promotes green-living and technology that will be surrounded by sustainable, eco-friendly single-family and multi-family homes.
“More or less we’re looking to be a fire starter to the revitalization of Highland Park. The entire project is based on renewable energy, media, technology and aquaculture,” he said.
Looking ahead, Shannon said they plan to put in an aquaponics garden where they’ll be growing fruits and vegetables, doing weekend markets and teaching people about nutrition, healthy eating and gardening, plus putting in a co-work space and STEAM lab with a maker space.
“We want to be able to create opportunities for people to learn and excel and better their lives. One of the things that we’ll be doing in the STEAM lab is teaching people cybersecurity, website map design, computer coding, all those types of things that are tech-based,” he said.
Additionally, Shannon said a partnership with Microsoft will bring workshops to Parker Village, offices for Modern Tribe and a state-of-the-art event center.
Shannon said he hopes to complete Parker Village in about 36 months, depending on funding.
So far, Modern Tribe Communications has footed the bill for the project but they also work with several nonprofits and other organizations, including a few musical partners that are connected to the media company.
“This is honestly a community-based effort. … Technically we are a for-profit corporation, but it’s a social enterprise,” he said. “We honestly are looking to do something that will enhance what’s gonna happen with the city and help to revitalize it.”
Coming up: Plans to sell stock in the company, Shannon said.
The Cortland Community Impact Center, operated by the Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency, is used for Highland Park’s Head Start early childhood education program that serves low-income families with kids between 0 and 5, plus a number of other community development programs.
Anne Zobel, who works in Community and Economic Development Services for the Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency, said the space has become integral to the community and has begun to spearhead renovations at the site.
At 138 Cortland, Zobel said they’ve done everything from the Fatherhood Olympics to engage fathers and promote family fun, partnered with 5/3 Bank for financial literacy events, hosted community clean-up events to tackle blight in the immediate neighborhood and partnered with the city to adopt nearby Glendale Park.
While Zobel said they’ve been using the building since 2009, they are in the midst of making major improvements.
The first phase was just completed, and Zobel said they built modernized early Head Start classrooms for kids ages 0 to 3.
In the next 5 weeks, she said they will begin their second phase by building out and improving their current head start classrooms.
To support these first phases, Zobel said they used grant funding through Head Start. But the building needs an additional $12 million in renovations, so the center is launching a capital campaign.
“It’s a 55,000 square foot building and it needs to be updated. It’s a 1960s school building, we’re using it for very different uses than it was originally designed for,” she said.
And the center also is developing a sweeping campus community project, acquiring vacant parcels, designing playgrounds, community gardens, a new community commercial kitchen, public meeting area and more. A seven-story, 75,000-square-foot vacant apartment building is being turned into affordable housing.
Ultimately, Zobel said the aim is to have everything completed in 2020.
Summer in the City, is a volunteer organization that allows participants to give back and support the community by painting murals, planting gardens and playing with peers that could use a friend or mentor.
Ben Falik, of Summer in the City said they arecommitted to fostering the impact volunteers can have on the city and the impact those experiences have on the volunteers.
The group is set to make their mark on Highland Park with a mural created at the Ernest T. Ford Recreation Center on Pitkin Street during their “Finale Friday” celebration Aug. 17.
Falik said they’ve been working with Highland Park’s centennial celebration on the design, and while it isn’t set yet, he said they want it to reflect “the character and dynamism of Highland Park.”
The multi-panel piece is expected to wrap all the way around the recreation center, Falik said.
“(It will be) a design that both looks back at the last 100 years and looks forward to the next 100 years,” he said.
Are you interested in having a green business? We all like to do our bit for the environment, but businesses are oftentimes guilty of not making eco-friendly decisions. With the advent of new technologies, however, there have never been more ways to build up your green business.
Of course one obvious way to go green using technology is to invest in solar panels and other forms of renewable sources of energy. But this is something that may only be possible for larger businesses—those with the space and capital to put money into large projects on their premises. Thankfully however, there are still plenty of ways that smaller businesses can utilize different forms of technology to be more eco-friendly.
Becoming a business powered by renewable sources or utilizing green technology can be both a fantastic way to save money and a good thing to do for the environment. Here are four ways you can use technology to create a green business.
1. Cloud Document Storage
Does your business still rely on physical paper for documents? This can be a bad idea because it takes up valuable space in your office, but also because relying on paper copies is bad for the environment. Aside from the sheer amount of paper you use every year, it’s also very environmentally-unfriendly when these documents have to be disposed of or shredded.
Images Online is one company at the forefront of document storage technology. It’s now possible to have all of your major paper documentation scanned and uploaded to cloud storage so that you can get rid of your paper versions and free up that space in your workplace.
2. Green Web Hosting
Sometimes it’s the things that you never think about that can actually be making a big difference to your green business. For example, you might take care of all of the usual green activities in the office, such as energy efficient appliances and recycling schemes, but never consider what’s going on away from your business.
For example, if you have a website it will likely be hosted by a company using servers. You might not realize that you can be making an environmentally-friendly choice by opting for a green web hosting company instead of others that are not environmentally conscious.
3. Pay Attention to Lighting
Did you know that lighting accounts for around an average of 20 percent of the energy consumption of a business? So it really is a big deal when it comes to eco-friendly practice, and it’s something that you need to look at seriously.
First, it’s a good idea anyway to implement a company-wide scheme to ensure that lights are turned off when they are not in use. But it’s also worth pointing out technological advances that have been made in energy efficient light bulbs. It’s a great idea to invest in modern LED bulbs and move away from the date and inefficient bulbs. This can help to cut energy usages while obviously reducing your energy costs at the same time. It’s often the case that going green be a financial benefit to your business as well.
4. Buy Energy From Renewable Suppliers
Of course there is no doubt that one of the most important changes that you can make in terms of creating an eco-friendly business is from where you acquire energy. You may currently be supplied by one of the major utility firms and may not have considered switching, but doing so can make a huge difference to the ecological credentials of your company.
There are many different green energy suppliers that exclusively supply the grid with energy from renewable sources. Look into the options available—you are likely to find that your energy could be bought from one of these suppliers with very little financial impact on your business. In fact in some cases, these energy providers are even cheaper than traditional suppliers.
Detroit Renewable Power, the large, long-standing solid waste incinerator just off I-94 and I-75, has exceeded pollution emissions standards more than 750 times over the last five years, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality records show.
Most of the incidents were not considered violations by the DEQ, however. They were dismissed because the pollution event was a minimal percentage of the incinerator’s overall emissions or occurred during startup or shutdown, when environmental regulations provide more leeway for emitters.
The DEQ, in a negotiation with Detroit Renewable Power and Michigan Attorney General’s Office, agreed last June to a consent order citing the company for only eight pollution incidents from 2015 and 2016. The total penalty was $149,000.
“That’s really the tool we have to try to bring them into compliance,” said Todd Zynda, the DEQ’s inspector of the incinerator.
He acknowledged the bureaucratic, regulatory process, at least to-date, isn’t reducing Detroit Renewable Power’s odor and pollution incidents. “It’s not going too well right now,” he said.
Kathryn Savoie, Detroit community health director for the nonprofit The Ecology Center in Ann Arbor, concurs with that assessment.
“It’s kind of mind-boggling — people are just blown away,” she said. “They violate the law; then they get to sit and negotiate how much they should be fined.”
Detroit Renewable Power officials did not answer the Free Press’ specific questions, instead responding via email with a statement.
“Detroit Renewable Power operates in full compliance with stringent federal, state and local operating and performance permits and regulations,” company officials stated. “We regret, however, that since January 1, 2015, the facility has received 18 violation notices for emissions and 22 violation notices for odor. We are working to be better and seeking opportunities to improve our practices to be a good neighbor in our community.”
The Free Press, however, in a review of DEQ reports, found almost 200 instances since 2015 where the DEQ found the facility “noncompliant,” exceeding pollution limits on a variety of harmful chemicals, with the regulator issuing notices of violation at least 29 times. Additionally, the records show there were 52 instances since 2015 where DEQ staff investigated area resident complaints of odors, or did their own, independent odor reviews, and found Detroit Renewable Power out of compliance with state standards.
The trash burned at Detroit Renewable Power is used to create electricity — up to 68 megawatts (one megawatt hour can power about 650 homes) — and steam used by numerous buildings downtown, including the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, multiple Detroit Medical Center hospitals and two towers of the GM Renaissance Center.
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The company, on its website, says it’s not an incinerator.
“Old incinerators burned trash inefficiently, had minimal (if any) air emission control systems, produced smoke, and did not recover any of the energy released during the combustion process. Our EFW facility produces steam and electricity that reduces burdens on landfills, recycles waste metals, doesn’t smoke, and cuts greenhouse gas emissions.”
The facility operates in an area of Detroit where industrial air pollution abounds from a variety of industrial sources and motor vehicle exhaust, and juvenile asthma rates and hospitalizations far exceed those in other parts of Michigan. The pollutants under scrutiny at the incinerator — carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter or fine dust pollution, and nitrogen oxides — are considered “criteria pollutants” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — priority pollutants with the potential to harm human health and damage the environment.
The lack of complete enforcement of violations by DEQ raises the ire of Detroit residents who’ve sought to get the incinerator out of their neighborhood since before the city opened it in 1986.
“It’s a classic environmental injustice,” said Nicholas Leonard, a staff attorney with the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center who has dug into Detroit Renewable Power’s emissions records and DEQ’s corresponding enforcement of air quality regulations for Breathe Free Detroit, a nonprofit coalition of environmental and community groups that seeks the shutdown of the incinerator.
“Most of the trash being burned there is not only being brought in from outside the city of Detroit, the City of Detroit is paying more to burn its trash there,” he said. “And the residents of the city are being saddled with exceedances of pollutants and odors on summer days — an unfair interference with the use of their property.”
Where does it come from?
Leonard said only about 25% of the waste the facility takes in comes from Detroit, and city residents pay more per ton — $25 — to dispose of their waste there than the Grosse Pointes or Warren (about $15 per ton).
“That was obviously something the community cared about and talked about,” he said.
Company officials, however, in their statement, disputed those figures, saying “72% of the incoming waste comes from Detroit. In total, 80% of the incoming waste comes from Wayne County.”
But public records don’t back that up, Leonard said.
“DRP is required to submit annual reports to Wayne County detailing how much waste it receives from each county in Michigan, other states, and Canada,” he said. “Those reports had consistently stated that most of the waste burned at the incinerator comes from outside of Wayne County, and specifically Oakland County.
“After we started making an issue of that, DRP retroactively changed their reports going back several years, and have subsequently changed their reporting moving forward to reflect what they’ve told you.”
Leonard provided the Free Press with invoices for trash deliveries to the incinerator that the City of Detroit submitted to the Greater Detroit Resource Recovery Authority, which is responsible for managing Detroit’s garbage. Leonard obtained the records through the state’s Freedom of Information Act. They show billing for just more than 200,000 tons of waste shipped to the incinerator from the city in 2016.
“What I can tell you with a high level of confidence is that the Great Detroit Resource Recovery Authority, which is the entity responsible for the disposal of municipal solid waste in Detroit, was invoiced for the disposal of 200,125 tons of solid waste in 2016. Additionally, DRP reported that it received 895,680 tons of solid waste in 2016. Therefore, I think we have reliable information that municipal solid waste generated within Detroit accounted for 22% of the solid waste received by the incinerator in 2016.”
The higher “tipping fee” for Detroit than other communities accounts for “the priority status the city receives when it comes to receiving waste,” Detroit Renewable Power officials said in their statement.
‘The smell is horrible’
That priority status was of no consolation to Josh Brooks, 24, who lives less than a half-mile from the incinerator, and grew up and went to school in its shadow near Lafayette Park.
“It’s infuriating to know that the majority of the trash that’s burned in Detroit — that’s going into our air, that I’m breathing, that children are breathing at the school I went to — isn’t actually even our trash,” he said.
According to a new report from Breathe Free Detroit, which cited EPA statistics, almost 22,000 people live within a 1½-mile radius of the incinerator. Of them, 76% are people of color, and 71% are low-income, the report found. Thirteen schools operate within that radius, with the playground of Golightly Elementary School approximately 1,300 feet from the incinerator.
Odale and Tennille Brown live on Theodore Street, less than a quarter-mile — and downwind — from the incinerator with four children, ages 21 to 12.
“The smell is horrible,” said Tennille, 40. “In the summer it gets really bad. Sometimes it will be so thick you can almost taste it.”
The couple doesn’t move because they own their home, she said.
“That’s why we don’t have anything over here like family functions,” Tennille Brown said. “Who wants to smell that?”
Across the street, Carol Barbee, 55, has lived in the neighborhood since August 1989. She never had lung problems before moving to Theodore Street, but since, she said, she has been diagnosed with sarcoidosis of her lungs and nasal passages, a medical condition in which inflamed cells collect in different parts of the body for reasons that aren’t well understood.
Barbee suspects the air quality in the neighborhood has something to do with it.
With regard to Detroit Renewable Power, Barbee said in the summer, “you can smell it without the windows being open.
“A lot of times it smells like fish, feces, urine. You can’t even sit outside and enjoy yourself.”
Leon Tyler, 55, lives off Chene, and remembers when the area flourished with Polish and African-American families, with department stores just up the street. The stores are long gone, as are most of the Polish immigrant families. Ramshackle vacant houses and empty lots are as common as occupied homes.
“We had pear trees, apple trees, grape vines, but that all went away,” Tyler said. “When that incinerator came up, our trees started dying.”
Path to incinerator started in the ’70s
The city formed a Resource Recovery Task Force in 1975 to begin looking for a waste incinerator site. Concerns about volatility in waste disposal prices, and a perception that landfill space was running out in the state, prompted a push for a publicly owned incinerator.
Economic conditions slowed the project until 1986, when $438 million in construction bonds was approved for the operation at 5700 Russell St.
The facility includes a massive, 4,000 ton tipping floor, or offloading area for garbage trucks, feeding to three processing lines, where the waste is shredded into a form that allows it to be burned. It then moves to a 3,600-ton refuse derived fuel storage area, and from there, it’s moved on conveyor belts to one of three large boilers, where it’s burned and a layer of water is converted to steam. The steam fuels a turbine generator to create electricity, and is also piped to downtown buildings in a steam loop for heating and cooling.
The facility was initially built to process about 850,000 tons of municipal waste per year, well in excess of the 650,000 tons of waste Detroit was generating at the time.
“The thinking was, if you create this regional hub for incinerating waste, you’re creating energy, and potentially, it could be profit-making,” said Margaret Weber, a volunteer with Zero Waste Detroit, a coalition of local organizations advocating curbside recycling and opposed to the incinerator in the heart of the city.
Instead, the facility became a financial albatross for city residents. Financing of the incinerator over two decades cost Detroiters $1.2 billion in costs and debt servicing.
When the city sold the incinerator in 1991 to Phillip Morris and GE Capital, the city maintained the debt. What prompted such a raw deal? The need for cash, Weber said.
“The city needed money to balance its budget,” she said. “It’s like payday lending. Those extremely large percentages come off people’s checks. But when you need it, you need it.”
The incinerator has since changed hands multiple times and is now privately owned by Detroit Renewable Energy LLC, with the city retaining the land upon which the facility sits and leasing it to the company through the Resource Recovery Authority.
According to Zero Waste Detroit’s report, most of Detroit Renewable Power’s revenue comes from steam sales to 85 large customers downtown. Electricity sales are its next-highest revenue source, then waste disposal fees.
Incinerator noise an issue, too
It’s not just the smells from Detroit Renewable Power, neighbors said. It’s the noise as well.
“From Friday to Sunday, they kick out the steam,” Tyler said. “It sounds like a train.”
There’s a phone number to call to alert DEQ officials about odors emanating from the facility, Brooks said. “But for noise complaints, they tell you, ‘We can’t handle that; you have to call a city number,’ and you call it, and it’s some secretary whose voice mail inbox is always full,” he said.
“The noise from that is so bad. It sounds like helicopters overhead, or a jet engine. It can last for 30 minutes to an hour.”
Why doesn’t DEQ do more?
DEQ seeks to address every citizen odor complaint that comes in regarding the incinerator, Zynda said. In 2016, 231 citizen complaints resulted in 17 days of odor violations for the incinerator, he said. Last year, 240 complaints led to 11 days of odor violation notices to the facility, he said.
“A lot of times, they disagree that there is even an odor problem,” he said. “There are other odorous facilities in the area, but this facility really only has one type of odor and it’s sour garbage.”
Detroit Renewable Power agreed in a 2011 consent judgment to take numerous steps to eliminate odors by 2014. Seven years later, odor complaints still come in by the hundreds every year.
In last June’s consent judgment, Detroit Renewable Power promised not to exceed pollution limits going forward. By the end of the year, the company had exceeded limits on carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides at least seven times. The DEQ also found that company officials “failed to report all excess emissions for the Third Quarter 2017 and the Fourth Quarter 2017.”
It remains to be seen whether the incinerator will now face more penalties.
The community wants to see more done, Savoie said.
“We would like to see a much stronger and much more urgent action to protect public health,” she said.
On Friday, Breathe Free Detroit delivered 15,000 signatures to Mayor Mike Duggan’s office, calling for the city to shut down the incinerator.
City officials told the Free Press that Detroit has no authority to shut down the incinerator or power to regulate air pollution control.
“That all falls completely under the MDEQ,” the city said in a statement. “So they really should be delivering their petition signatures to Lansing.”
The DEQ’s $149,000 fine to Detroit Renewable Power last year “is kind of the cost of doing business,” to the facility, Savoie said.
“You can see they haven’t come into compliance. They just continue to operate in violation of the law.”
The incinerator “is absolutely an impediment to becoming a more sustainable city, and to become a cleaner, greener, healthier place to live,” she said.
“An incinerator creates twice as much climate-changing carbon dioxide as a coal plant,” Savoie said. “If we’re burning trash, it’s really hard to get people to recycle.”
Tyler said he remembers the citizen protests as the incinerator was considered and constructed. Their concerns have all come to pass, he said.
“It seems like that place should be in the middle of nowhere,” he said.
“For them to come into this neighborhood and do this type of (stuff)? This neighborhood don’t deserve that.”
Contact Keith Matheny: 313-222-5021 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @keithmatheny.
Imagine a city with softened traffic sounds, where noise pollution has been dramatically cut, there are no vehicle exhaust fumes and the sky is a pristine blue.
Imagine a countryside where there is little to no road traffic noise, where residents in towns, villages and hamlets will never again be woken from their sleep in the early hours by the highway noise of air brakes as truck and semi-trailer drivers slow their vehicles, creating a sound like snoring dragons.
That’s the future of electric vehicles (EVs) in the minds of many researchers, entrepreneurs and carmakers and like a long road trip, signpost by signpost, it is getting closer.
There are still many potholes to negotiate on the road to creating a Solar or Smart Highway, but there are signs that the concept of an intelligent transportation system may move significantly closer to reality over the next decade.
Such a system would incorporate technology to generate solar energy and lighting, monitoring road conditions and powering autonomous electronic vehicles (EVs).
Early in May, Qualcomm Inc, a US tech company at the cutting edge of developing wireless electric vehicle charging technology, announced that its system is expected to be commercially available on EVs within two years.
Qualcomm, which has been developing motor vehicle static charging technology with major carmakers for the past seven years, is no small player in the field, with the market value of the company broaching $US92 billion.
Qualcomm Halo, the company’s business development and marketing division, said the game-changer was based on the fact that the cost of static wireless charging is now comparable with conductive charging.
Being able to charge an electric vehicle wirelessly “makes the ease of vehicle use that much smoother [and] takes away the risk of remembering to plug in to charge your vehicle overnight,” Halo division vice president Graeme Davidson told Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).
“Using an EV with wireless charging will therefore not be that different to using a gasoline car, without the need to visit a petrol refill station,” he said.
But it is the likely technological spin-off from this electrical engineering steppingstone that may well be the real game-changer, dynamic wireless charging – an endless supply of power on the move.
“Static wireless charging is the first step to developing dynamic wireless charging, where vehicles charge constantly while in motion,” Davison said.
During tests in the FabricEV charging program near Paris, Qualcomm technicians demonstrated that it was possible to charge a vehicle travelling at highway speeds with more than 20 kilowatts of electricity from an electrically-inductive road surface.
Welcome to the future.
It was the “perfect example for us to show the industry that dynamic wireless charging is possible,” Davidson said.
Qualcomm currently focuses on static charging, but in a company statement said wireless EV charging technology lends itself to a future vision of charging on the move.
“It will be easier to design wireless charging into vehicles that are electrified from the outset rather than incorporating the technology into an existing design,” Davidson said, but added that “both Mercedes Benz AGand BMW Group Inc. have announced that they intend to install wireless charging on existing plug-in hybrid electric models in 2018.”
The process of installing wireless charging technology in road surfaces, while expensive, would also allow 5G communications to be installed, which would compliment autonomous driving systems.
In a city environment, if EVs don’t have to stop to recharge, they can stay in service longer, meaning far fewer vehicles would be required to meet passenger demand.
EVs using dynamic wireless charging could operate with much smaller batteries, reducing production costs, making them lighter and even more attractive to consumers.
Wireless charging is being taken seriously by car industry hallmark, US standards organisation the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), which has released a draft wireless charging standard (J2954).
The progressive development of Standard J2954 will broaden interoperability.
Just as standardized home electrical outlets can power any consumer appliance today, standardized wireless charging protocols in the future will make wireless charging an easy way to charge any electric vehicle.
Dynamic wireless (or inductive) charging is in the spotlight at motor shows around the world and is being installed by many of the key makers of luxury electric vehicles including VW, Tesla, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi, Porscheand Nissan.
Nissan’s corporate Utopian vision is wirelessly-charged autonomous EVs powered by flexible grids, forming the transport framework of interconnected cities powered by clean, green renewable energy.
In the meantime, the most immediate step on the road to solar salvation is the low-cost proliferation of EV charging stations along highways and roads to power the EV roll-out, fed by the grid, which in turn is being increasingly fed by renewable energy, including solar power.
Based on the premise that necessity is the mother of invention, researchers in the US have come up with a transportable, self-contained, solar-powered EV charging station which can be placed on any road, anywhere.
San Diego-based Envision Solar International has designed a grid-free charging station called EV ARC which is towable and can be left at any chosen site, whether it be a city car park or a highway parking bay.
The 2.7m x 4.87m EV ARC consists of a ballast pad on which vehicles park to charge and a 21.6KWh storage battery supplied by a 2.3KW solar canopy, enabling it to charge EVs day or night, or during a grid failure. Envision Solar says the EV ARC can charge for up to 362 e kilometres daily.
Three EV ARCs are being used in a study conducted by the city of San Francisco to establish the best likely location for EV recharging units.
A solar tracking system enables the EV ARC’s solar panels to capture the optimum amount of sunshine from a base area the size of a single car park.
But going down the road of mobile, solar-based EV charging is currently not altogether cheap.
An EV ARC unit costs about $US45,000 to purchase and generates about 16KWh a day, basically capable of charging a single EV or “topping up” four or five short-run urban electric vehicles. The up-front cost is partly counterbalanced by the US Government’s 30 per cent solar Investment Tax Credit.
In mid-May, Envision Solar sold a further five EV ARC units to the California Department of Parks and Recreation, with some units being placed at Natural Bridges State Park in Santa Cruz to be used as public charging for visitors.
Market analyst Navigant Research predicts that by 2022 there will be more than 35 million electric vehicles operating worldwide.
To hold global temperature increases to below 2°C by the end of the century, there will need to be 600 million electric vehicles on the world’s roads by 2040, according to the International Energy Agency’s Energy Technology Perspectives.
Meanwhile, researchers continue to strive to find the most effective and cost-efficient way to combine solar technology into highways and roadways.
Is a Solar Highway achievable? Not with current PV cell technology and associated high costs of production.
The world’s first solar highway was opened in France in late 2016 in the small village of Tourouvre au Perche in Normandy.
Wattway, designed to power the village’s street lights and built by the Anglo-French construction company Colas, is a 1 kilometre-long, single-lane road consisting of 2,800 square metres of photovoltaic cells which cost $US5.9 million.
Considering France’s more than 1 million kilometres of roadway, the current cost of converting the nation to this more eco-friendly system is astronomical, around $US5.9 trillion.
According to Colas, the Wattway’s main selling point is that the solar panels are only a few millimetres thick and can be installed on existing roadway but it will take two years of testing before it is known how much electricity it can effectively produce as thousands of trucks and cars cross its surface daily.
Colas claims Wattway’s photovoltaic efficiency is 15 per cent, compared with about 20 per cent efficiency from commercial, roof-mounted solar panels, but that’s not factoring in mud, snow, standing water after rain and Normandy’s low share of sunlight.
In late 2017, China also announced it had built the world’s first photovoltaic highway in Jinan, Shandong province, a 1km stretch of road composed of a three-layered system, a base of insulation, then a layer of photovoltaic panels, topped by transparent concrete.
Project designer, Tongji University’s transportation engineering expert Zhang Hongchao, said the expressway, which consists of two lanes and an emergency lane and cost $US458 a square metre to build, could handle 10 times more pressure than normal asphalt and in a year could generate 1 million KWh of electricity.
Beyond the current prohibitive costs, there also are engineering and health factors to consider in the construction of a Solar Highway which can both directly absorb solar energy and provide dynamic wireless charging for EVs.
According to a 2017 report by the US National Academy of Sciences titled Leading-Edge Engineering: Wireless Charging of Electric Vehicles,although dynamic EV power transfer has yet to be proved economically viable, capacitive wireless power transfer (WPT) has the potential to make widespread dynamic EV charging a reality.
Capacitive systems the key
“Also, because capacitive WPT systems do not use ferrites, they can be operated at higher frequencies, allowing them to be smaller and less expensive.”
“But because of the very small capacitance between the road and vehicle plates, effective power transfer can occur only at very high frequencies, making the design of these systems extremely challenging.”
“Two major challenges associated with capacitive WPT for EV charging are (1) achieving high-power transfer density at high efficiencies while meeting electromagnetic safety requirements, and (2) maintaining effective power transfer even as the couplers’ relative position changes.”
The roadblocks on the way to achieving cost-effective, dynamic EV charging are many.
They include the effective analysis of the effects on human health from long-term exposure to weak electric and magnetic fields, the need for a system to detect animals and other foreign objects on highways which may interrupt dynamic charging, appropriate engineering techniques to embed dynamic charging into roadways and the need for detailed analysis of how a large-scale dynamic charging system could interplay with the electric grid.
It would seem we will be listening to snoring dragons in the early-morning hours for some years to come. comment
LANSING — Michigan’s two dominant utilities committed Friday to increase the power they produce from wind and other renewable sources to 25 percent by 2030 under pressure from billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, who ended a ballot drive opposed by the electric providers in response.
Consumers Energy and DTE Energy said they will accelerate plans to generate cleaner power through a combination of boosting the use of renewable power and energy-efficiency programs.
Under current law, electric providers must reach 15 percent renewable energy by the end of 2021. The two major utilities now will target a 25 percent mix by 2030.
DTE Energy Chairman and CEO Gerry Anderson and Consumers Energy CEO Patti Poppe said in a joint statement that they appreciate that Steyer, whose NextGen America provided financial support to collect more than 350,000 voter signatures, and other sponsors “understand our commitment to carbon reduction and how Michigan’s energy plan puts the tools in place to achieve this goal in a thoughtful and affordable manner. Our two companies are overwhelmingly in favor of renewable energy and are focused on bringing additional energy efficiency opportunities to our customers.”
The ballot drive, which was launched in February, would have required 30 percent renewables by 2030. Backers had been expected to soon submit signatures to the state. If enough petitions had been valid, the initiated bill would have gone to the Republican-led Legislature and then the November ballot if lawmakers did not act.
Steyer called the deal a “win for the people of Michigan,” adding that “every American deserves the right to clean air and water.” Steyer has been on a mission to impeach President Donald Trump, and his NextGen America group also is backing a renewable energy ballot drive in Arizona. In 2012, Michigan voters rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have required electricity suppliers to generate 25 percent of their power from wind, solar, biomass or hydropower by 2025.
The utilities will detail how they will reach their clean energy goals when they file plans required under 2016 energy laws. Consumers’ proposal is due to state regulators by June 15. DTE’s is due in March 2019.
Earlier this year, Consumers announced it would phase out electricity production from coal by 2040 to slash emissions of heat-trapping gases that cause global warming. The utility said it would generate 40 percent of its power from renewable sources such as wind and solar energy by then.
DTE last year pledged a carbon emissions cut of more than 80 percent by 2050 by phasing out coal, boosting wind and solar energy, and building a 1,100-megawatt natural gas plant. The Michigan Public Service Commission OK’d the new plant in April.
The 2016 energy laws set a non-binding goal of meeting 35 percent of Michigan’s power needs by 2025 through a combination of renewable energy and energy conservation. Consumers and DTE now will target a 50 percent clean energy goal by 2030 — half from renewable energy and half from an energy waste reduction benchmark.
Michigan Environmental Council President Chris Kolb, whose group intervenes in regulatory proceedings, called the announcement a “big step forward” and said the organization “will do everything in our power to ensure this commitment is fully implemented and the benefits to our state are fully maximized.”
Electrek Green Energy Brief: A daily technical, financial, and political review/analysis of important green energy news.
Today on EGEB, the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE made a breakthrough that may turn photovoltaic production upside-down. India bets on solar-wind farm hybrids in their new energy draft policy. Solar Exchange and the United Nations Development Programme team up to bring solar power to one of Europe’s most impoverished country.
“reverse the manufacturing process so that first the solar module is produced and subsequently filled with the photovoltaic material then directly activated on site, or “in-situ”? “With perovskite, a photovoltaic material that is currently being intensely investigated, and a photoactive salt, we have now succeeded, for the first time, in realizing a printed solar cell with an efficiency of 12.6 %”
This low success rate warrants more work, but this technology is very promising and eco-friendly as it requires nearly the same process as glass production. Wastes from this production could then be recycled, transportation and infrastructure costs slashed, making solar power even more competitive than it is now.
“It is a great combination because then you have steady power coming from six in the morning to six in the evening from the solar, and then have wind which starts around 12 and goes on till about two or three in the morning,” said Ramesh Kymal, CEO of wind turbine maker Siemens Gamesa’s India business.
Savings are to be expected also in the electricity transmission infrastructure.
“The idea is to find new sources of finance to “help buildings go green overnight” – in this instance with rooftop solar panels, said Dumitru Vasilescu, a program manager with UNDP in Moldova, one of Europe’s poorest countries.“ One of the biggest obstacles to countries investing in renewable energy is a lack of finance, as you often have to wait 10 to 15 years before you get a return on your investment,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. But the university will get a full 1 megawatt of energy installed in the summer, he said, as a result of the crowd-funding effort. Owners of the solar cells, in turn, will receive SolarCoins as soon as the university produces energy, earning interest of about 4 percent on their investment, Vasilescu added.”
Moldavia imports three-quarter of its energy, making it vulnerable to markets changes and natural gas giant Russia, something authorities hope to change through renewable energy.
Aline Reynolds is a New York-based journalist and urban planner. As a staff editor and reporter, she has chronicled the post-9/11 revitalization of Lower Manhattan, including the rebuilding of the World Trade Center. Her work has appeared in the American Planning Association’s Planning Magazine, Agence-France Presse, and Newsday.
Fortistar, LLC, a sustainability-focused private company helping to facilitate the transition to a zero-carbon economy, has hired David Unger as the senior vice president responsible for developing renewable natural gas (RNG) business projects. Unger is joining Fortistar from Waste Management, where he served as director of renewable energy.
During WasteExpo 2018 in Las Vegas, Fortistar announced that the firm has started to develop a portfolio of new RNG projects. RNG is carbon neutral and chemically identical to geological natural gas, allowing it to be used as a transportation fuel in natural gas vehicles and trucks.
“RNG from landfills offers a tremendous opportunity to sustainably expand America’s transportation fuel supply, and David’s deep knowledge of and experience in landfill gas projects will be instrumental in our rapid development of RNG projects,” said Mark Comora, president of Fortistar, in a statement. “David will fit in seamlessly with the Fortistar team, helping us to fulfill our vision of ensuring the most value both to our landfill partners and to our RNG transportation fuel customers. Fortistar’s best-in-class execution ensures continual project success for landfill owners, and our ability to deliver RNG fuel through TruStar fueling stations provides transportation fleets with the powerful ability to achieve their sustainability goals while also improving their bottom line.”
While at Waste Management, Unger was responsible for the marketing and development of all beneficial use landfill gas projects. In his career, Unger has developed more than 65 power plants and renewable energy facilities, 62 of which are currently operating and more than three are in design and/or under construction. In recognition of his outstanding achievement in developing beneficial use landfill gas projects, Unger was awarded a placement in Waste Management’s “Circle of Excellence.” He holds a bachelor of science in renewable natural resources from the University of Connecticut, and he received his master of business administration from the University of New Haven.
“Fortistar is a leader in extracting more value and better performance from low carbon power, transportation and industrial projects,” said Unger in a statement. “I look forward to working with the experienced and talented team at Fortistar and their affiliate TruStar Energy to build this new portfolio of RNG landfill projects.”
Fortistar, celebrating 25 years as a private company, has built, invested in and managed portfolios of successful independent and sustainable/clean energy generation projects in both the United States and Canada, including dozens of landfill gas-to-energy projects and the construction of more than 100 natural gas fueling stations. Fortistar’s demonstrated ability to develop and maintain strong relationships with its investors, customers and local communities has been a major tenet of its decades-long successes.
Andy Wirth was just a few years into his job at the helm of Squaw Valley Ski Holdings when he fielded a complaint from a customer that had nothing to do with snow quality or ticket prices. The customer wanted to know if Wirth was aware that the company was using power sourced from coal to fuel the ski lifts and keep the lodge lights on.
Wirth, a longtime environmentalist, couldn’t believe it. But he did some digging and learned that not only was Squaw’s power fueled primarily by coal, but that the coal was coming from a Nevada plant notorious for polluting the air.
“We were stunned,” Wirth recalls. “It was a remarkably less-than-ideal circumstance.”
Related: Tesla’s Microgrid
Related: California Ski Industry Association president on environmental stewardship
The realization triggered a call to Liberty Utilities, the Lake Tahoe resort’s energy provider. But it also sparked a years-long quest to improve sustainability and lower the company’s carbon footprint at a rapid clip. That effort is expected to peak later this year, as Squaw climbs closer to its goal of relying on 100 percent renewable energy as soon as the end of 2018.
Wirth won’t be around to see Squaw meet that goal; he retired in mid-April after eight years serving as president and other top executive roles. But the sustainability mission he put in motion, which includes some of the most sweeping and aggressive efforts the ski industry has seen, is full steam ahead. The company’s plan, conducted in close partnership with Liberty Utilities, is an ambitious one that could put the resort decades ahead of its peers and California state-mandated standards.
Some see the development as essential for bolstering business and ensuring long-term survival of the ski industry as a whole. But beyond that, Squaw’s efforts are helping drive an even bigger shift in the energy market that could shape the future of our planet.
“It’s not good enough to say we’re going to target 2025 or 2030. We don’t have time to wait another generation,” Wirth says. “ We have to get this done now.”
“The Squaw-Liberty partnership is a big deal. Squaw has really pushed on Liberty to create clean energy and it is clearly working.” Michael Reitzell, president, California Ski Industry Association
Squaw, meanwhile, has been pioneering environmentally-forward initiatives for years, rolling out features ranging from electric car charging stations to a resort-wide ban on the sale of single-use plastic water bottles. But this partnership goes beyond those efforts.
“The Squaw-Liberty partnership is a big deal. Squaw has really pushed on Liberty to create clean energy and it is clearly working,” says Michael Reitzell, president of the California Ski Industry Association. “Squaw Alpine has been a champion for renewable initiatives, and it is very impressive that they have committed to renewable energy so quickly.”
Squaw hasn’t set a hard deadline for hitting 100 percent renewables — it’s careful to word the pledge as reaching the mark as soon as the end of 2018 — but succeeding in the goal would make it the first resort in the nation to run entirely on renewables and put it ahead of current California regulations, which call for energy portfolios to be fueled by 50 percent renewables by 2030.
But even if Squaw doesn’t make the cut, the pronouncement could be good for business. Consumers increasingly see businesses that promote green initiatives as socially responsible and high-quality, according to Dr. Andrey Mikhailitchenko, director of the Center for Small Business at Sacramento State.
“It becomes a fashionable addition to their brand image,” says Mikhailitchenko, who is also an associate professor of business. “If you’re declaring that you’re moving in this direction, you’re generating a better reputation among customers and better sales.”
Still, Squaw appears to be better positioned than most to glide toward such an ambitious goal. And the reason why is something of a lesson in business and consumer dynamics. It turned out the coal Wirth was disappointed to discover in the company’s energy portfolio was there because of a multi-year power purchasing agreement with another utility called NV Energy that included energy sourced from coal-fired plants.
With an annual electricity bill of about $3 million, Squaw is Liberty’s largest private customer in the region. When Wirth called about the issue, the utility listened. But he wasn’t the only one asking for more clean power — the utility has seen demand rise steadily. That, plus the long-term cost benefits of renewables, has made exploring ways to meet those requests a priority.
“We’re actively on our own looking for a lot of ways to maximize our renewable portfolio for all of our customers, and coal is the anti-renewable,” says John Friedrich, the California territory manager for business and community development for Liberty Utilities. “Squaw was an encouraging voice to go in that direction as were other customers.”
Liberty pushed forward with plans to lessen the dependence. They built a new 50-megawatt solar energy project in Luning, Nev. A second facility, which will be in Reno, is currently under construction. When the NV Energy contract was up for renewal, Liberty renegotiated to exclude coal power.
By Jan. 1, 2016, the grid sourcing the resort’s power was free of coal. Today, between 25-30 percent of the resort’s energy comes from renewable sources, including solar. This January, officials from Squaw and Liberty issued a joint statement taking things even farther: They would aim to use 100 percent renewable energy as soon as the end of the year. A spokeswoman said there is no hard deadline, but to help hit that goal, the company is partnering with Liberty and Tesla to install on-site batteries to store more renewable power. (See sidebar on page 68.) The announcements — and flurry of positive press that followed — were a bright spot in a season that saw a slow start due to lack of snow (revenues were down 20 percent in January) and a March avalanche that left two guests injured.
If the plans are successful and approved by the California Public Utilities Commission, Squaw will cut its carbon footprint in half — from 13,078 metric tons to an estimated 6,682 metric tons. The resort says the drop is equivalent to the annual emission output of 959 homes.
Both Squaw and Liberty say a collaborative and open relationship between the customer and the utility has helped accelerate the adoption of renewable energy.
“Liberty was very progressive, a very forward-leaning organization. They were respecting our input to move off of coal,” Wirth says. “They weren’t at all resistant, they weren’t giving the bureaucratic line… [It was] very collaborative.”
Greg Sorensen, president of Liberty Utilities’ West Region, credits Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows with being “very clear about their goal of powering their operations with 100 percent clean, renewable energy as soon as possible.”
“The fact that Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows is such an engaged customer with renewable energy-use goals that align with our own is inspirational,” Sorensen said in a press release on the efforts earlier this year. “We are very supportive of their initiative, which helps accelerate our transition to renewables to benefit customers throughout our service territory.”
DOES IT PAY?
In Wirth’s eyes, the commitment to renewable energy and conservation is, at its core, a “values-based” decision. That shouldn’t come as a surprise — the entire sport is predicated on access to the outdoors, clean air and fresh snow, after all. But he says it’s also smart business, given the impact of climate change on the industry’s overall health.
Extreme variability and intensity in the weather is already affecting ski destinations in a major way, according to Dave Belin, an industry analyst with RRC Associates. Belin has seen the percentage of ski areas experiencing unplanned or scheduled closures due to weather — decisions that can result in big revenue losses — rise in recent years.
“Ski industries work best when things are predictable and things are steady,” Belin explains. “When you have high swings, whether big storms, no snow, a big temperature flux, that’s really difficult for ski area operators.”
“It’s still a very good move in the long run, and we’re responding to what our customers say clearly they want.”John Friedrich, territory manager, Liberty Utilities
While the resort has seen no direct link between tourism and environmental measures, executives feel changes that are appealing to the sustainability-focused sensibilities of their customer base certainly can’t hurt. And there are more immediate business impacts, too. Renewable energy sources, like solar or wind, are generally less expensive than sources like natural gas, which are subject to market volatility. Subsidy programs aimed at promoting solar energy has made the shift even more lucrative.
“Adopting these types of technologies oftentimes results in a decreased electric bill and can save the businesses a lot of money,” says Jon Hart, a specialist in technology and distributed energy resources at the nonprofit Center for Sustainable Energy. “Even without different types of subsidies, solar energy is at the point where it can save you money.”
Squaw has seen its energy bills drop since it began using renewables. Looking ahead, actions by the Trump administration, including cutting subsidies for solar and imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum, could squeeze those margins for providers and customers. But supporters say economic and market forces behind renewables chart a clear course forward.
“It’s still a very good move in the long run, and we’re responding to what our customers say clearly they want,” says Friedrich, of Liberty Utilities. “It’s not helpful to have barriers thrown in the way of what we should be doing … But the momentum is certainly moving in this direction.”
Officials at both Liberty and Squaw say they see their own momentum continuing, too. While Wirth was an early and driving force for the changes, the broader spirit and mission behind the initiatives have been embraced by leadership in both parties. “Andy has been a great proponent of these projects and a great leader, however the projects are going forward,” Friedrich says.
Liesl Hepburn, a spokeswoman for Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, echoes Friedrich’s outlook, saying that the team in Tahoe and parent company Alterra Mountain Co., a newly-formed partnership of resorts launched last year, are on board.
“While of course Andy has led the charge on this, below him he has really built a substantial team of folks who are really well-educated on those aspects [and] will be carrying on the torch on all those fronts,” she says. “He’s the one who got us to this point and thankfully the timing has worked where we have the foundation set, thanks to him, to move forward.”