Great Lakes Energy News Roundup: Toxic coal ash, utility company water withdrawal, Line 5

Great Lakes Energy News Roundup: Toxic coal ash, utility company water withdrawal, Line 5
April 17, 2020 Ian Wendrow

Keep up with energy-related developments in the Great Lakes area with Great Lakes Now’s biweekly headline roundup.

In this edition: Chicagoans furious after smokestack demolition releases dust in Little Village, toxic coal ash to remain on Michigan shorelines indefinitely as coal plants close, Minnesota and Wisconsin natural gas plant opting away from water withdrawal for cooling purposes, Ohio consumer advocate pushing to divert energy efficiency funds to COVID-19 relief payments, and Enbridge’s project to replace part of its Line 5 pipeline under the St. Clair River continues.

Click on the headline to read the full story:



Residents of Little Village in Chicago were subjected to a massive cloud of dust after the controlled implosion of a defunct smokestack failed to contain the fallout. The demolition was carried out on April 9 by Hilco Redevelopment Partners, who assured residents that no dust would escape the site. The following Monday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot demanded a suite of mitigation measures be taken by Hilco, whose CEO admitted fault and announced they will be working alongside Chicago and other agencies to carry out an action plan. 



With coal more or less an obsolete method of generating power, Consumers Energy in Michigan is retiring coal plants near Saginaw Bay’s shoreline and elsewhere in the state, but waste in the form of toxic coal ash will remain at these sites for literal decades to come. State permits allow toxic ash landfills to be up to six stories tall, meaning that long after Consumers Energy and other power companies have fully moved away from coal generation their waste will remain. Similar dumps are being left throughout Michigan, whether on Great Lakes shores or elsewhere. State and local authorities argue the landfills are a safe way to dispose of the waste, while environmental advocates worry about the high concentration of toxic metals such as arsenic, mercury and lead that can potentially leak out.


Minnesota, Wisconsin

Wisconsin’s Dairyland Power Cooperative and Duluth-based Minnesota Power had both received approval to construct a natural gas plant sharing the states’ borders earlier in the year from Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission. Part of that permit included the construction of five wells that would pump three million gallons of water daily to cool the plant. Yet after local residents, regulators and the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa voiced concern over the potential damage to the water, the two companies are requesting the Public Service Commission to consider alternatives to hydrocooling.



Columbia Gas and Vectren Energy, two natural gas utilities in Ohio, are involved in a pending case to extend a low-income energy efficiency program by two years. In an opposing argument, the state’s Consumers’ Counsel wants to divert the funding for this program towards a bill payment assistance plan in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Advocates in favor of the natural gas companies’ programs have warned that siphoning funds would be a short-sighted mistake that would negatively impact lower-income households. 



With energy projects deemed essential, work has continued on the replacement of Enbridge’s Line 5 oil pipeline crossing beneath the St. Clair River at Sarnia.

The $20-million project began earlier this year to drill a new crossing deeper in the riverbed than the existing one. The replacement of the crossing between Sarnia and Marysville, Mich., is part of an agreement the company reached with the former governor of Michigan for Line 5 that also calls for a new US$500-million tunnel crossing to be built at the Straits of Mackinac.

Catch up on other headlines around the Great Lakes:

Great Lakes Energy News Roundup: COVID-19 impacting utilities everywhere and across industries

PFAS News Roundup: Indianapolis and Rhinelander find PFAS, PFAS testing and projects stalled due to COVID-19

Great Lakes Energy News Roundup: Mich. “energy freedom” bills, Toledo low-income community solar project, Minn. Supreme Court backs frac-sand mining ban

Featured image: Superior, Wisconsin, beach. Photo by Sandra Svoboda.


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