Energy inventory to chart area’s resources

HOUGHTON – As part of a $185,000 grant, the Western Upper Peninsula Planning and Development Region (WUPPDR) is implementing an Energy Inventory, Opportunities Assessment and Demonstration Project to compile an inventory of electrical and natural gas infrastructures, resources, socio-economic indicators and explore potential small-scale renewable energy projects.

“There are two parts to this project,” said Jerry Wuorenmaa, executive director of WUPPDR. “The first one is largely a mapping effort, and we’re going to be showing energy infrastructure, providers’ rates, and things like that. And then, along with things like socioeconomic factors, it will show where the greatest needs are based on the populations who live in the different areas.”

The mapping aspect of the project, an intense survey of accessible utilities, is important to the overall understanding of the needs of those in the western U.P. The intent is to map access to energy infrastructure, Ahbi Kantamneni of Michigan Tech’s Keweenaw Research Center said. Typically, that is defined as access to basic energy services.

“There are different ways that you can think about it,” he said. “One way, for example, is a lot of people in Keweenaw, parts of Houghton County, parts of Baraga County, simply do not have a gas pipe coming to their house, so that’s an aspect of being simple, straight-forward ‘we do not have simple access to that particular resource.’

For various reasons, energy rates and usage are measured in different ways using very different standards.

“In America, power – energy is usually measured largely as a function of economic poverty” Kantamneni said. “Most of the resources from the state or the federal government, in terms of heating assistance, are energy rebates that go to families of high needs. High needs are defined as being around 150 percent of federal poverty level.”

What the Energy Inventory study is discovering, however, is measuring such things is complicated.

“I think, due to the unique nature of the demographics, the weather, the old energy infrastructure we have up here, I think we’ve come to realize that just using a single metric to define energy power doesn’t adequately capture the average percentage of people in the U.P. who are most vulnerable to high energy rates,” Kantamneni said.

Kantamneni pointed out that poverty is not the only barrier residents face in accessing power.

“If, for example, you’re talking about an elderly person who is on disability, who lives in a home that is rented,” he said. “They don’t have the ability to make a capital investment on the infrastructure on their home that they don’t own, but they pay the utility bills. But the landlord doesn’t want to pay for it, and on a cold, winter day like today – you stack all these things up, you start to realize we are really vulnerable up here.”

The study, Kantamneni said, looks at many factors.

“What does the age of homes look like? Winter weather? You add all these factors and try to figure out the context in which we live up here and the resources that are available to different groups in the community. That’s the elderly, businesses, industries. How can we help people to arrive at energy security? That’s the mapping side of the project.”