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UP Energy Task Force makes recommendations

Area homes are saddled with higher average electricity rates than those found in other parts of the state. A recent report from the UP Energy Task Force says in some cases, they are the highest in the country. Governor Gretchen Whitmer set up a panel to look at ways to reduce prices while shoring up the power grid to continue to provide energy for all customers. Last week they put out their recommendations, including to embrace renewable energy sources.

The report says pushback is a concern. “One of the challenges facing renewable energy development in the U.P. has been resistance to siting renewable energy in a community, as evidenced by the experience involving a proposed large solar project in Escanaba Township and that involving a proposed large wind project in L’Anse Township.”

L’Anse Village Manager Bob LaFave says it doesn’t have to be that way. He points to the solar array project that provides enough power for roughly 30 homes. The key is to get buy in from community members, says Lafave.

It really was engaging people in conversations where they were about if we did a program, if this something that the community would want to do, would we have enough community support to do it? And then getting feedback from the community about if we were to do it, what should this look like?

The solar array ended up being oversubscribed. LaFave says that is proof that whe n you work from the ground up and explain why something can be a benefit, it will win others over.

Much of the infrastructure needs to be replaced in the coming years. Falling population and a guarantee to provide service to everyone has resulted in a large percentage of customers being isolated in rural areas. That can be incredibly expensive for utilities and it is seen in a large gap between rates for residential users and industrial users. Households pay four times as much as manufacturers in Houghton County if they are serviced by UPPCO.

Natural gas doesn’t have the same guarantee and new customers have to shoulder the cost of expanding service. If the expense to the utility is greater than expected revenues, the consumer is on the hook for the difference and it can be cost prohibitive.

The full report can be found here.

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