Q&A: A Michigan clean energy pioneer keeps looking to the future

On the outskirts of Traverse City, Michigan, sitting in the middle of farmland off M-72, is a giant lonely wind turbine that, in addition to electricity, produces a sense of pride for Jim Carruthers. As a private citizen in 1996, he helped push for construction of this now-iconic structure, at the time the largest operating wind turbine in the country. Today, he is mayor of this 15,000-plus-population (and growing) tourist town off the shores of Lake Michigan. He recently helped make news for Traverse City by setting a goal of powering all its city operations with renewable energy by 2020. Along the way toward that goal, though, he’s discovering the costs are higher than anticipated, including a surcharge for a new solar array.

As coal plants close, groups scrutinize plans for more gas-fired generation in Michigan

Plans to build natural gas plants to replace coal-fired generation in Michigan are facing scrutiny from advocates looking to ensure renewable energy and energy efficiency are also being considered. The Michigan Public Service Commission is considering a request by the Upper Michigan Energy Resources Corp. (UMERC) to build two gas plants totaling 183 megawatts in the Upper Peninsula to replace a 62-year-old coal plant in Marquette. Meanwhile, earlier this month DTE Energy announced plans to build a $989 million, 1,100-MW natural gas-powered combined cycle plant in southeast Michigan near Detroit. While the projects are in different stages of development and are on a vastly different scale, clean energy advocates say there are similarities in determining what comprises Michigan’s future energy mix and how reliant the state will be on natural gas as aging power plants are retired.

Q&A: Clean energy pioneer sees potential in using food waste for renewable energy

Jigar Shah, the founder of solar company SunEdison, is credited with helping transform the industry in the early 2000s by allowing customers a pay-as-you-go model for installing solar panels, opening the door for widespread adoption. After leaving SunEdison, Shah in 2014 co-founded his latest venture in San Francisco-based Generate Capital, a specialty finance company focused on sustainable infrastructure within the food, energy, water and materials sectors. Amid the “Resource Revolution” — which the company sees as an opportunity to transform the productivity of systems that power society — Generate Capital took Shah’s SunEdison concept and applied it to an “Infrastructure-as-a-Service” model for both companies and municipalities that might struggle with upfront capital costs. Earlier this year, Generate Capital bought a state-of-the-art biodigester facility in rural West Michigan for $4.4 million after the facility abruptly closed two years ago, despite initial fanfare. Financial specialists say the facility, which opened in Fremont, Michigan in 2012, was overbuilt at $22 million.