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When it comes to electrical power, times are changing

Remember a few years ago, when the Upper Peninsula’s energy picture was just a little bit murkier?

The pending closure of the Presque Isle Power Plant in Marquette still loomed over the region, with some calling for its immediate shutdown and others saying it must remain operating to keep the lights on for U.P. consumers.

Back then, the Marquette Board of Light and Power hadn’t announced anything about switching its primary source of generation over from coal to natural gas, and concerns of reliability, blackouts and exceptionally high electricity rates seemed to be discussed almost everywhere.

Well, we all know that our electric rates haven’t dropped to levels below where they were several years ago, but overall much has changed for the region in just a short amount of time.

The creation of a new utility company, the Upper Michigan Energy Resources Corp., and the establishment of two new natural gas-fueled power plants in Negaunee and Baraga townships allowed for parent company WEC Energy Group and its subsidiary, We Energies, to close down the monstrous Presque Isle Power Plant on March 31.

During roughly the same time this was all happening, the Marquette Board of Light and Power successfully sought rate increases through the Marquette City Commission to provide the financing needed for the construction of its Marquette Energy Center.

Building the energy center, another natural gas-fueled power plant that is situated off Wright Street near the city’s border with Marquette Township, allowed the BLP to take its coal-fired Shiras Steam Plant offline, officially retiring the South Marquette facility earlier this year.

Tearing down the Presque Isle and Shiras plants will both take a significant amount of time, with environmental remediation being a major focal point in that process. But when those projects are completed, the city’s shoreline and skyline will certainly be changed for the better.

In the past few years, energy industry leaders — at least regionally — have talked more and more of transitioning away from coal and moving to natural gas as their primary fuel. That can be seen in the closing of the two plants in Marquette, and Semco Energy Gas Co.’s multimillion dollar project to install the Marquette Connector Pipeline, which officials say will provide a backup source of natural gas to meet the area’s energy demands.

Over the past few years, the BLP has also installed its community solar garden, giving its customers an option to harness the power of the sun, and — though they may not reach fruition — we’ve heard of several proposals for wind turbine generation in the U.P. as well.

These changes symbolize a shift in the minds of most people toward cleaner energy and an overall growing concern for the environment and future of our world.

High rates are still a concern for many, and wildly fluctuating bills have been an issue for customers of the Upper Peninsula Power Co. for some time. But officials say they’re working to address that by using new technology to help collect more accurate meter readings.

Something else that’s become a popular topic in the board rooms and coffeehouses across the state is Enbridge’s 66-year-old Line 5, which transports light crude oil and natural gas liquids through the Straits of Mackinac.

A $500 million project to build a tunnel that would house the pipeline beneath bedrock in the Straits was proposed, though the future of that is somewhat murky.

This list of items is not meant to be exhaustive, but more of a simple look at the changes we’ve noticed in the past few years.

Much has been done to clean up the energy situation here in the Upper Peninsula, but, as we’ve said before, the road to truly green energy is a long one. These changes are at least a step in the right direction toward a brighter, sustainable future.

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