Innovation and policy experts share views on Michigan’s energy future at annual meeting of MiEIBC

Apr 28, 2017

“The Michigan Energy Innovation Business Council (MiEIBC) is nearly 100 businesses, large and small, engaged in advanced energy here in Michigan, and we cut across the advanced energy spectrum,” Liesl Clark tells Kirk Heinze on Greening of the Great Lakes. “We seek to bring together different perspectives and give all of them more weight.


“We’re a variety of different technologies coming together to have a stronger voice at the Capitol.”

Clark is president of the MIEIBC, which hosted its fifth annual member meeting April 26 at MSU’s Kellogg Center.

On the forward-looking energy bills that were passed in December 2016 by the Michigan legislature, Clark says “a big component of the legislation is to show that Michigan is open for business to the clean energy industry. Bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate because of the decreasing cost of renewable energy have made a commitment to a clean energy future for Michigan.”

Expert panelists included Trevor Lauer, president and COO of DTE Electric, a subsidiary of DTE Energy, which serves 2.2 million customers, primarily in southeast Michigan.  He participated in a discussion titled The Future of Electricity: Technology Transforming the Grid.

“The grid facilitates the flow of electricity from the generation resource into the distribution grid and on to the customers. I like to call it one of the engines of progress; it’s technological innovation that we still marvel at,” says Lauer. “But it’s also something we need to continue to put focus into and to renew to make sure it meets all the needs of our customers moving forward.”

Lauer describes what he means when he says we need to “harden the grid” and adds “we have to do this with an eye toward affordability and reliability for our customers.”

Like Clark, Lauer appreciates the legislature’s efforts to pass new energy legislation in Michigan, and he says the legislation does two key things.

“It continues our path toward more renewable energy for Michigan and a cleaner energy future and reduces our carbon footprint. And it continues our focus on energy efficiency programs.”

As DTE retires old, coal-fired assets, he says DTE has found “huge success inside the state of Michigan developing wind energy, and we’re putting in the largest solar array east of the Mississippi. We see ourselves continuing down the path of adding more and more renewables into our mix.”

Responding to a question about the effect on Michigan of changing federal energy policy, Lauer says federal energy policy will always have an impact on states and the utilities that operate in them.

“But it’s important to note that utility investments are usually made for a period of 40 to 60 years. So not only do we have to be successful with the administration that preceded the current one. We have to be successful with this administration and keep an eye toward the administration that comes after this. Because each administration is going to have different viewpoints on energy and environmental policy.

“States have to control their energy future. There’s an important role for the federal government and regional organizations, but, ultimately, as a state – particularly a peninsula state like Michigan is – we have to be in charge of our energy future, and we have to work collaboratively towards that end.”

Traverse City Mayor Jim Carruthers took part in a discussion on Cities Driving the Energy Transformation.

“We attract many people who believe in protecting our natural resources and the environment,” says Carruthers. “We’re very much a green community.”

In December 2016, Traverse City officials voted to work to meet 100 percent of municipal electricity needs from renewable sources—a goal jointly embraced by Grand Rapids and Northport. 

“We’re basing our renewable goal on our own city operations and how we can build efficiencies into everything we do.”

Strategies include using more energy efficient vehicles for city business, insulating city buildings, LED lighting programs – “whatever it takes to use less electricity.

“It’s a challenge and an aggressive goal we want to meet by 2020. We feel we can meet it by mobilizing the support from the entire community.”

He adds that a lot of the mid-to-large size, progressive corporations in the country are looking to locate in cities that provide reliable, affordable renewable energy.

Ed Straub is technical program director and chief safety officer for the American Center for Mobility (ACM) at Willow Run in Ypsilanti Township. He participated in a discussion titled Energy, Mobility, and the Future of Transportation.

“The ACM is a non-profit testing, education, and product development facility for future mobility,” he says. “Its purpose [is] to enable the safe validation and self-certification of connected and automated vehicle technology. Our ultimate goal is to accelerate the development of voluntary standards for the industry.”

Straub explains both the differences and the vital links between autonomous and connected vehicles. 

“We think these two technologies will move forward together for better overall production of better products.

“What a lot of people are realizing right now is that the development of autonomous, connected vehicles will require much more than computer science. It’s going to take a very cross-disciplinary approach to get these vehicles into broad, safe usage. We’re understanding more about how the human brain works and then applying that to the decision making of producing automated vehicles.

“We also need to consider that the transition to a fully automated road network is going to be very long if we ever completely get there. So there’s going to be mixed traffic on the road for a long time. That means you and I will be driving, perhaps, right next to an automated vehicle. We need to understand and learn how humans interact with these automated vehicles and the impact that our interaction has on the decisions the automated vehicles make. It’s very dynamic.”

Greening of the Great Lakes airs inside MSU Today Sunday afternoons at 4:00 on 94.5 FM and AM 870.