U.S. Energy Information Administration's (EIA) Natural Gas Weekly Update spotlights the rise of natural gas to surpass coal as the primary generation fuel for electricity dispatched by the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO).
Since March 20, 2020, EIA’s Hourly Electric Grid Monitor has shown that natural gas-fired generation has surpassed coal-fired generation as the primary source of electricity dispatched by (MISO), the regional transmission organization responsible for managing wholesale electricity generation and transmission across all or parts of 15 central U.S. states and the Canadian province of Manitoba. This is mainly a result of low natural gas prices; the start-up of three major high-efficiency, natural gas-fired combined-cycle power plants since mid-2019; and the increased share of wind-powered generation.
Since March 20, natural gas-fired generation provided approximately 32% of electricity within MISO, whereas coal-fired generation provided about 25% of the region’s electricity. In the three months preceding March 20, natural gas- and coal-fired generation were at parity, each providing approximately 31% of total generation in MISO. Before late December 2019, coal-fired generation almost always provided the greatest share of electricity within MISO.
Relatively low prices have driven the increased use of natural gas for power generation. Since March 20, the spot price of natural gas at the benchmark Henry Hub has averaged $1.70 per million British thermal units (MMBtu), according to Natural Gas Intelligence. However, much of MISO covers the Midwestern states (though not the Chicago area), so the price seen by generators in these states may be closer to the Midwest regional average price, which has been lower than the Henry Hub, averaging $1.60/MMBtu during this period. From December 20, 2019, through March 19, 2020, the Henry Hub price averaged $1.92/MMBtu, and the Midwest regional average averaged $1.79/MMBtu.
Since mid-2019, 2.3 gigawatts (GW) of new high-efficiency, natural gas-fired combined-cycle capacity has opened in MISO. These plants, including the brand new Lake Charles Power Station (a 1.0 GW natural gas combined-cycle plant in Louisiana) that opened on March 28, have very low heat rates, allowing them to be dispatched first and run at high levels.
The capacity of electricity generated by natural gas is expected to continue increasing in MISO, while coal-fired capacity is expected to fall. Through 2022, another 4.3 GW of net natural gas-fired generation capacity is planned to begin operation while 5.1 GW of net coal-fired generation capacity is scheduled to retire in MISO, according to the February 2020 EIA-860M data.
Additionally, wind-powered generation has also increased in MISO, evidenced by the addition of 3.2 GW of new wind turbine capacity since the beginning of 2019, including 660 MW of capacity added in 2020. Increased wind turbine capacity can affect natural gas-powered generation, since natural gas-fired power plants are often used in conjunction with wind power to serve as back-up power.
State of Michigan to Participate in Federal Work Share Program to Protect Workers, Help Address Budget Deficit. Over 31, 000 State Employees will be Impacted
In a press release on May 13th, the state of Michigan announced that it would participate in the federal Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) Work Share program to help offset budget implications as a result of the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of this program, impacted state employees will take two temporary layoff days per pay period beginning Sunday, May 17th until July 25th resulting in up to $80 million in decreased wage costs.
“As we continue to combat COVID-19, it’s clear that we’re facing unprecedented challenges that will lead to serious budget implications for the state of Michigan,” said Governor Whitmer. “Utilizing this federal program keeps state employees working so they can continue to provide critical services to Michiganders and protects their paychecks so they can continue to support their families.”
This federal program allows the state to keep employees working with reduced hours, while employees collect partial unemployment benefits to make up a portion of the lost wages. State managers at the 17 level and above will not participate in Work Share but will take one layoff day every other pay period resulting in an approximate 5 percent reduction in gross pay. Over 31,000 state employees will be impacted.
Impacted employees will retain their health insurance and other benefits and will be automatically enrolled into the unemployment process to help ensure they have the support they need during this challenging time.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determines Enbridge's permit application for the tunnel is complete and sets a public comment period
In early April of 2020, Enbridge filed environmental permitting applications for the Great Lakes Tunnel project with Michigan Dept. of Environment Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) and the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).
On Monday, May 11th, the US Army Corps of Engineers determined Enbridge's permit application was complete and set a public comment period from May 15th through June 4th, 2020. Comments can be filed with Kerrie E. Kuhne Chief, Permit Evaluation Western Branch Regulatory Office Corps of Engineers, Detroit District by email at Katie.L.Otanez@usace.army.mil. The USACE asks that those submitting comments include a name and mailing address and refer to file number LRE-2010-00463-56-A19. View the public notice here.
Separately, EGLE continues to review the environmental permitting application submitted to the department last month. In a letter last week, EGLE asked Enbridge for more information on the project, particularly more specificity in its building plans. In a statement by Enbridge, the company acknowledged its appreciation for the timely and important feedback and committed to work with EGLE to provide any necessary additional information.
It’s encouraging to see that the tunnel project remains on schedule and that Enbridge anticipates construction to be underway as early as the end of 2021. While the tunnel is constructed, the safe and continued operation of the existing Line 5 pipeline, is essential to Michigan's oil and gas industry and the small, local businesses who depend on consistent access to the pipeline to ship their product.
Domestic Energy Fuels the Frontlines. The U.S. oil and natural gas industry provides the feedstock necessary for manufacturers to develop important plastics that will be used to create life-sustaining materials, from the casings for vaccines to masks, gloves and ventilators. Not to mention the energy that is enabling scientists to work around the clock to develop vaccines and testing kits. Visit Energy In Depth to learn more.
Governor Whitmer's office has released the the six phases of her MI Safe Start Plan to re-engage Michigan’s economy. The governor announced today that Michigan is in phase three.
The phases of the pandemic include:
1) UNCONTROLLED GROWTH: The increasing number of new cases every day, overwhelming our health systems.
2) PERSISTENT SPREAD: We continue to see high case levels with concern about health system capacity.
3) FLATTENING: The epidemic is no longer increasing and the health-system's capacity is sufficient for current needs.
4) IMPROVING: Cases, hospitalizations and deaths are clearly declining.
5) CONTAINING: Continued case and death rate improvements, with outbreaks quickly contained.
6) POST-PANDEMIC: Community spread not expected to return.
“I am working closely with health care experts and epidemiologists to closely monitor Michigan’s progress in the fight against COVID-19,” said Governor Whitmer. “As we move forward with the MI Safe Start Plan, I am working closely with partners in business, labor, and education to determine the best way to move forward each day. All of us know the importance of getting people back to work and the economy moving again. We’ve already reopened lower-risk sectors like construction, manufacturing, and lawn care.
“The worst thing we can do is open up in a way that causes a second wave of infections and death, puts health care workers at further risk, and wipes out all the progress we've made. That's why we will continue to monitor the spread of this virus, hospital capacity, testing rates, and more as we work toward reaching the ‘improving’ phase.”
Governor Whitmer Extends Stay Home, Stay Safe Order, Reopens Manufacturing as Part of MI Safe Start Plan
On Thursday, May 7th, Governor Whitmer signed Executive Order 2020-77 to extend Michigan’s Stay Home, Stay Safe order to May 28. The governor’s order will allow manufacturing workers, including those at Michigan’s Big 3 auto companies, to resume work on Monday, May 11 as part of the MI Safe Start Plan.
Under Executive Order 2020-77, manufacturing facilities must adopt measures to protect their workers from the spread of COVID-19. That includes conducting a daily entry screening protocol for workers and everyone else entering the facility, including a questionnaire covering symptoms and exposure to people with possible COVID-19, together with a temperature screening as soon as no-touch thermometers can be obtained. They must also create dedicated entry points at every facility, and suspend entry of all non-essential in-person visits, including tours.
Manufacturing facilities must also train workers on, among other things, how COVID-19 is transmitted from person to person, signs and symptoms of COVID-19, steps workers must take to notify the business or operation of signs and symptoms of COVID-19 or suspected or confirmed diagnosis, and the use of personal protective equipment. All businesses in the state—including manufacturers—must require masks to be worn when workers cannot consistently maintain six feet of separation from others, and consider face shields for those who cannot consistently maintain three feet of separation from other workers.
The governor’s Stay Home, Stay Safe order remains in effect until May 28, 2020. Under this order, Michiganders still must not leave their homes except to run critical errands, to engage in safe outdoor activities, or to go to specified jobs.
The U.P. Energy Task Force will begin its broad analysis of the Upper Peninsula’s current and future energy needs during the panel’s online public meeting on Tuesday, May 12.
The Task Force will meet from 9:30 a.m. to noon using Microsoft Teams with time allotted for public comment about the challenges and potentials for energy availability in the U.P. To participate, go to Michigan.gov/UPEnergyTaskForce for the Microsoft Teams meeting link. A dial-in number and conference ID are also listed.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer signs Executive Order 2020-76, extending and building upon her earlier executive orders expanding eligibility for unemployment benefits during the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.
The Executive Order expedites benefits for tens of thousands of Michiganders who have filed for unemployment benefits by allowing the state to review only an individual’s most recent job separation, which is the cause of the current unemployment, to determine the individual's benefit entitlement.
The Executive Order also extends Executive Order 2020-57, which:
- Expands the state’s workshare program, offering more tools to employers to reduce layoffs and restart their business.
- Extends unemployment benefits to workers:
- Who have an unanticipated family care responsibility.
- Who are sick, quarantined, or immunocompromised and who do not have access to paid family and medical leave or are laid off.
- Extends unemployment benefits to workers who voluntarily left a job after accepting new employment but were unable to start their new position due to the pandemic.
- Allows anyone with an active unemployment claim to receive up to 26 weeks of benefits.
- Suspends the requirement for individuals seeking unemployment to request a registration and work search waiver from their employer.
- Allows Unemployment Insurance Agency retirees to keep their retirement benefits if they return to work to process unemployment claims or serve on the Occupational Health and Safety Commission.
- Expands cost-sharing with employers to reduce layoffs.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer signs Executive Order 2020-75, which extends a previous Executive Order that allows public bodies to conduct remote public meetings during the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. Executive Order 2020-75 expires on June 30, 2020.
“As we continue to flatten the curve, it’s important to give public bodies the flexibility they need to conduct virtual meetings and limit in-person contact,” Governor Whitmer said. “During this ongoing crisis, it’s critical to ensure public officials can continue to do their jobs and meet the needs of residents, while also ensuring meetings remain open, accessible and transparent to the public.”
Under Executive Order 2020-75, public bodies subject to the Open Meetings Act, including boards, commissions, committees, subcommittees, authorities, councils and nonprofit boards, can use telephone- or video- conferencing methods to continue meeting and conducting business during the coronavirus (COVID-19) public health crisis, so long as they follow certain procedures to ensure meaningful access and participation by members of the public body and the general public.
Public bodies must meet the following criteria when holding a public meeting electronically:
- Ensure two-way communication for members and the public to hear and address each other when speaking.
- Provide adequate notice to the public of the meeting.
- Post a public meeting notice on their website.
- Permit participants to record or broadcast the public meeting.
- Allow participants to address the public body during a public comment period.
The order also temporarily authorizes public bodies, departments and agencies to use technology to enable remote participation in public comment and hearings, and temporarily excuses school boards from monthly meeting requirements.
Governor Whitmer Extends Executive Orders Enabling Remote Transactions, Easing Fuel Tax Requirements for Transporting Essential Personnel and Supplies
Governor Gretchen Whitmer signs Executive Orders 2020-73 and 2020-74, which extend two Executive Orders signed last month to help protect the health and safety of all Michiganders during the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.
- Continue to temporarily allow e-signatures on official documents and remote notarizations to avoid unnecessary in-person contact.
- Continue to temporarily suspend licensing, decal and trip permit requirements used by the Department of Treasury to collect taxes owed by motor carriers.
The new orders take immediate effect. Executive Order 2020-73 (motor carriers) continues through June 2, while Executive Order 2020-74 continues through June 30.
Executive Order 2020-74 temporarily suspends requirements for in-person notarizations, and allows transactions that require a notary to be completed via two-way, real-time audiovisual technology. The order also extends the validity of notary commissions until June 30, 2020. It also permits the use of electronic signatures in all cases, except in rare circumstances when a physical signature is required.
Executive Order 2020-73, temporarily suspends motor carrier licensure requirements, including certain decals and trip permits related to collection of certain fuel taxes.