The Mining Journal (Marquette). Nov. 20.
MTU solar energy study should produce usable results
We'll be interested, along with a great many people, we suspect, to see results of a study launched by Michigan Tech University in Houghton recently to determine if and to what degree snow affects solar panels.
MTU researchers who launched the effort project it will to take up to two years to complete.
University spokeswomen Marcia Goodrich, in a published statement, said international engineering company DNV GL is helping with study costs.
She noted, and The Associated Press reported, the company specializes in "large energy — and sustainability-related projects."
The company has built an array of solar photovoltaic panels behind the Keweenaw Research Center set at different angles.
The panel settings range from horizontal to 45 degrees. "If you tilt them at 60 degrees, almost no snow sticks to the panels, but you also lose a lot of sunlight when they are not facing the sky," Tim Townsend, a DNV GL engineer, said in an AP story.
He said that earlier studies show that year-round power losses because of snow can range from a few percent to 18 percent.
The data will be especially useful to homes and especially businesses which are located in snowy climates, where there is a desire to explore solar generation, AP reported,
So many studies produced by academia these days seem, bluntly speaking, to be poor uses of the public's money. This effort seems different, however. We look forward to its results.
Detroit Free Press. Nov. 18.
State should resist willy-nilly changes to important environmental regulations
Better safe than sorry.
For decades, that was Michigan's standard to regulate the pollutants belched into the air by industry smokestacks.
That's about to change, as the state continues its headlong rush to make Michigan friendlier to business.
Eliminating unnecessary regulation has been a high priority for Gov. Rick Snyder, who understands the importance of building a more robust tax base and a more stable economy in Michigan.
But the health of Michigan's business climate shouldn't be placed above the health of Michiganders.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality regulates about 1,200 air toxins, more than almost any state in the nation, save Texas. But a new set of guidelines under review by MDEQ would drop that number by about 500.
The new guidelines were developed by a working group made up largely of industry representatives. If adopted, the new rules would remove about 25 percent of the least dangerous pollutants from the list of regulated air toxins, along with pollutants for which there is no health data. Businesses would still be required to report emissions, and MDEQ could still restrict the quantity of emissions via an individual business' permit.
These are drastic changes.
Michigan's current system determines how much of a given pollutant can be released, in part, by assigning a value to each air toxic. That number takes into account not just the toxicity of the pollutant, but the quantity in which it is released. In other words, a large quantity of a less-toxic pollutant might be as or even more dangerous than a minute quantity of a more-toxic pollutant, something that ought not be ignored in any regulatory reform.
When it comes to pollutants for which no health data exist — there are 281 such pollutants on the list — the state assumes the worst, assigning those toxic pollutants the highest value. A more responsible course of action would be to require industries releasing such pollutants to obtain the health data necessary for MDEQ to make an informed decision about the safety of emissions.
These kinds of environmental precautions are especially important in Michigan, where heavy industry is concentrated and where many homes are downwind of multiple factories emitting toxic air pollutants.
There's no question that Michigan's air toxic regulation program is aggressive. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires regulation of just 187 hazardous air pollutants. But that's a minimum threshold, not a goal — something Snyder recognized when he vetoed a 2011 bill that would have barred Michigan from using regulatory guidelines more stringent than the federal government's.
The new guidelines are in a public review and comment period expected to last about six months; at the end of that time, the guidelines can be adopted by the state's administrative rules process.
That shouldn't happen.
Snyder has taken some big gambles: reducing the business tax rate while increasing taxes on individuals, getting rid of the personal property tax paid by some businesses, eliminating tax incentives in favor of a more limited, appropriations-based system. Yet it's far from clear that these gambits will pay off. None thus far has resulted in a significant reduction to the state's unemployment rate, at 9 percent, still substantially higher than the national average of 7.3 percent.
Air quality is too important for a gamble.
Grand Haven Tribune. Nov. 19.
Government shouldn't ban questions about crimes
Our state government has been rather busy of late working on legislation that tries to tell private businesses how to operate.
The most recent example comes in the form of House Bill 4366, which would prohibit both public and private employers from asking about criminal history on initial application forms.
Reasons behind the proposal come from an honest and altruistic place. Let's give former convicts a chance to get past initial employment screening so they can share their merits and positive attributes, and properly explain their past behavior to the potential employer, in person.
But the reality is, this law, if enacted, would simply add another layer of work on already busy human resources and hiring managers. When there are two good candidates with equal experience, and one happens to have a criminal record, the person with a clean record is nearly always going to be the winner.
While state and federal laws exist to protect people with criminal records from employment discrimination, it's rather apparent that these individuals face extra obstacles to employment. Those obstacles will be in place no matter whether the criminal background is revealed sooner or later.
The only difference is that now employers will have to make the extra effort later in the process to weed out individuals they don't feel — given their past exploits — are a good fit for the business.
The Michigan Chamber of Commerce is opposed to this legislation. They suggest an alternative — that legislators consider a law that would incentivize the hiring of people with criminal records by eliminating liability to employers.
Legislation to this effect has been approved in other states, including neighboring Ohio. It seems that such laws give opportunities to those who have paid their debt to society and are seeking a better path in life.
Considering a similar law in Michigan would seem to be a logical approach to the apparent intent of giving those with criminal records a fighting chance at good jobs.
Providing a positive reward for doing the "right thing" is a way to create real change. That is far preferred over the state government's recent approach of adding handcuffs and blindfolds to businesses to try to force them into doing something that may or may not backfire.
Lansing State Journal. Nov. 18.
Compromise on charitable gambling
Michigan's gaming regulators and a large number of Michigan charities are squared off over proposed changes in the rules that govern gambling events that provide funds for hundreds of community groups across the state. Compromise is in order.
Members of hundreds of civic clubs across the state are alarmed at tough regulations they say will seriously diminish their revenue for good works. In Holt, it means the local Lions Club may have trouble keeping its pledge to support a scholarship fund. In Grand Ledge, the Lions Club worries about its ability to fund free eye exams and glasses or to build wheelchair ramps for those in need.
Charitable gambling started with bingo in 1972 and expanded to "millionaire parties" that included poker in 1979. Now state officials say it has catapulted in to an enormous business — $197 million in 2011 — and is showing increased signs of corruption. Gov. Rick Snyder's legal counsel told a legislative hearing last month: "Charitable poker began as a good cause ... and has devolved into a racket."
Since the Michigan Gaming Control Board took oversight of charitable gaming, which had been regulated by the Lottery Commission until 2011, officials say they've logged hundreds of violations to laws and administrative rules. Those include matters as simple as charity volunteers failing to wear required nametags and as worrisome as falsified records or selling more than the maximum allowed allotment of betting chips.
Difficulties seem to center on the companies that contract to run gambling events for charities. The proposed changes include limiting the companies' payment to a fixed fee rather than percentage of profits and limiting location rental to $250 per day. The new rules also require charities to have more volunteers present at gambling events and to take a direct role in enforcing rules.
Charities depend on gambling income, but citizens also rely on charities to make sure the events are more charitable than not. Consider: Most reasonable people who make a donation during a telemarketing call from a charity are disappointed if they learn that only pennies on the dollar go to the charity. State officials and charities both have a vested interest in making sure that doesn't happen with charitable gambling.
Still, regulators must be reasonable about what they expect of charities. The groups must become partners in protecting the charities' good names and the funding that supports their good works.