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HomeColumns, Opinions & Misc.AuSable River dam licenses up for renewal

AuSable River dam licenses up for renewal

By Fred Lewis

As many of you know, Consumers Energy(CMS) has been holding meetings around the state to discuss the future of their hydro electric plants that they have remaining in operation.

The discussion is centered on the issue of what does the future hold for these plants as they age and Consumers is looking ahead at he long and costly process of relicensing.

According to their license with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC for short, CMS must reapply for operating licenses for each hydro generation plant every 50 years. The next application cycle is coming in 2034 for most of their remaining hydros. The relicensing process takes between 5 -7 years and is an extensive process involving public input and hearings as well as research and programs to solve issues related to the dam impacts on fisheries and the environment that may have changed since the last relicensing cycle 50 years ago.

That puts us at 2027 which is less than 5 years away. If the option is to remove the hydros and their dam structures the process to relinquish and cleanup the hydro sites is a lot longer, 10 to 12 years for approvals and actual removal strategies which now puts us at 2022 to 2023 which is why they are asking these questions now.

If you attended the meetings you know that these hydros have not been profitable since the early 1990’s when regulations changed on how they can operate the powerhouses. They can not run them, to make power, whenever they choose.

Many of the plants are considered “run-of-the-river” facilities which means whatever water comes into the backwater pond is all that can be run through the hydro to produce power. Since power demand on the grid is uneven in it requirements to meet demand, hydros are typically used to meet peak demand needs and are allowed to run full out during these times of the day and back off during the off-demand times.

This action however results in the backwater pond dropping several feet during the run time and allowed to recover during the non-run time. Regulation changes in the 1990’s stopped this practice and most ponds now remain at a constant level throughout the day and night, water in equals water out. This practice has cut down on the efficiencies of these facilities and therefore their effectiveness as a power generating unit for the utility.

This would be ok if the utility could recoup their costs of maintaining the units but since they are regulated and are only allowed to recoup the costs allowed by the Michigan Public Service Commission(MPSC) in their rates, the MPSC has to allow these costs which may or may not be an economical decision.

The question that they answer is should all rate payers pay the costs of maintaining these hydros if the result is maintaining these backwaters for the recreational and property values of those that use and reside on them? And does all of the state benefit from these backwaters and if so at what cost? These are the tough questions that both CMS, the MPSC and we the rate payers need to answer, which is why these meetings are important and your voice to your local representative should be heard.

The waste site is open Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 10 AM through 4 PM and Sunday from 9 AM through 2 PM. We are open on Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day.

There has been a change in our Garden Club. While all the same members are there the contact people are changing. They are still looking for anyone interested in assisting them in caring for our planters in the downtown but the person to call is now Kim Kocher(989-899-1066) or Bev Mason(989-305-8823) Again I want to thank these hard working volunteers for what they give to keep our community looking beautiful.

As always if you ever have any questions, comments or concerns regarding our community please contact me. I am in the office Monday – Friday 7:30 – 4:00 at 989-728-2811 or my cell at 989-984-7073 or by email supervisor@plainfieldtwpmi.com.Fred Lewis – Supervisor Plainfield Township

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