Solar power changes cause critics to sizzle

By CASEY HULL
Capital News Service
LANSING — A new order by the Public Service Commission (PSC) will reduce savings for homes deciding to generate electricity from solar energy, according to some lawmakers. And that means less savings and reduced incentives for anyone hoping to save money by adding solar panels to their home. The solar power community is upset by the change and some legislators are attempting to reverse the effect of the ruling. Under the order, utility companies will have to pay solar households only the wholesale cost for the energy they produce. Utilities must pay a household or small business for putting energy into their grid.

Electric cars fighting for fuel in Michigan

By RILEY MURDOCK
Capital News Service
LANSING — Michigan’s automotive future is looking more electric. Consumers Energy and DTE Energy, the state’s two largest utility companies, have announced pilot programs in the coming year that will study the number and efficiency of charging stations and consider improvements to promote the adoption of electric vehicles. The Public Service Commission has held two conferences  on “alternative fuel” vehicles to encourage public discussion of the state’s role in electric vehicle charging, said Nick Assendelft, the media relations and public information specialist for the commission. Participants raised questions about the regulatory framework, such as whether users would pay directly for charging stations or through utility companies, Assendelft said. Pilot programs discussed included initiatives by Consumers Energy and DTE Energy to partner with automakers and charging station companies in places like Ann Arbor and Detroit, Assendelft said.

A spring brook trout catch from the Upper Peninsula. Credit: Michigan.gov

Catch more trout–if you can!

By KALEY FECH
Capital News Service
LANSING — Anglers fishing for brook trout in the Upper Peninsula this season can tackle portions of 36 streams where the daily bag limit has been increased to 10 fish. The season just opened and runs until Sept. 30. “It’s been an evolving issue,” said George Madison, a Baraga-based fisheries manager for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). “For many years, the daily possession limit was 10 brook trout.

Honk, honk, ribbit, ribbit in protected wetlands

By ERIC FREEDMAN
Capital News Service
LANSING — What’s good for the goose – and the duck and the swan – is good for the frog. At least when it comes to wetlands management. That’s the lesson from a new study that found wetlands conservation projects designed to benefit waterfowl also provide a boost other critters. “The biggest take-home message for folks is that these wetlands that we’re managing for waterfowl come with this other suite of benefits for other species of birds and frogs,” said lead author Doug Tozer, a program scientist at Bird Studies Canada. Management of publicly and privately owned wetlands includes measures such as diking to regulate water levels and control of invasive species.

Zoos hoping to breed large animals again

By CRYSTAL CHEN
Capital News Service
LANSING – Michigan zoos would again be allowed to breed large carnivores such as tigers and bears under a recently introduced bill. Since 2000, zoos must take their large carnivores, including lions, leopards, cougars, jaguars, panthers and cheetahs, to states that allow breeding. The law now prevents animals from mating as they would in nature, said Peter D’Arienzo, the chief executive officer of the John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, citing an unintentional drafting error in the 2000 law. The zoo has already had to move two male breeding-age Amur tigers to facilities in Wisconsin and South Dakota to breed because of the error in the current state law, he said. D’Arienzo said the bill sponsored by Rep. Thomas Albert, R-Lowell, would  provide a regulatory framework that will require all Michigan zoos to maintain high standards, meet specific breeding criteria and help zoos preserve endangered specifies for future generations.

Killing cormorants legal again

By STEVEN MAIER
Capital News Service
LANSING — Culling season is coming quickly for a controversial Great Lakes waterfowl after it received a one-year reprieve. Control of the double-crested cormorant will return this spring when the bird returns from wintering along the Pacific, Atlantic or Gulf coasts, according to federal authorities. Almost all culling was suspended last year after a federal judge ruled in May 2016 that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had failed to adequately assess its impact. With that study complete, the agency can again issue permits to kill cormorants to protect property, habitat, airports, fish hatcheries and other birds. “We’re trying to balance maintaining a stable cormorant population with managing them in the place where they’re causing damage,” said Tom Cooper, a program chief for the agency’s Migratory Bird Program.

Hard winter bad for deer, too

By KALEY FECH
Capital News Service
LANSING – With a prolonged winter in the Upper Peninsula, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is concerned about the impact the conditions will have on the region’s white-tailed deer. “Before this last storm that came through, we had a least a foot of snowpack over probably 80 percent of the U.P.,” said Terry Minzey, the Upper Peninsula regional wildlife supervisor for the DNR. With the latest storm, “we’re running anywhere from 18 inches to over two feet of snow on the ground.”
He said that’s unusual for this time of year. “This late in April, typically we’re seeing daffodils coming up next to the houses, and we’re seeing a little bit of green grass coming.”
With all the snow on the ground, deer cannot find a good source of food. During the spring and summer, deer eat grasses and herbaceous vegetation such as violets and other flowering plants, Minzey said.

Bike sharing finds a place in more Michigan cities

By CRYSTAL CHEN
Capital News Service
LANSING — Some Michigan cities have joined a growing group of communities nationwide  turning to bike share programs.
In 2010 there were only four city-wide systems in the U.S. where residents could rent bicycles. That jumped to 55 systems with 42,000 bikes in 2016, according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials, an organization of 62 major cities and 10 transit agencies. Even though it is a home to the U.S. auto industry, Michigan is also keeping up with the tide. Detroit, Ann Arbor and Port Huron have launched bike sharing systems. Others are working to make the concept feasible. “Bike sharing is an interesting idea,” said Amy Sasamoto, the Holland Downtown Development Authority coordinator.

Making environmental laws more effective

By LAUREN CARAMAGNO
Capital News Service
LANSING — A Port Huron angler once told Ethan Shirley that a fisherman’s job is to break the law as much as possible without getting caught. It’s a challenging attitude to overcome when enforcing environmental laws, said Shirley, a law student at Michigan State University who is researching ways to encourage people to obey conservation laws. “The Great Lakes are too large to be regulated at all times. Therefore conservationists depend on local people to comply with rules,” he said. But “fishermen admit to not complying with fish size regulation laws.”
Shirley does his research in Brazil, but he says the concepts can be applied broadly across the world.

Mercury’s match? Sex hormones

By STEPHEN MAIER
Capital News Service
LANSING — Sex hormones might be the secret for lowering mercury levels in fish and maybe humans, researchers say. States often issue consumption limits in areas with high concentrations of mercury in fish. The contaminant causes sickness in the people who eat them, and mercury poisoning is especially harmful to unborn children. Not much is known about how contaminants like mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) affect fish, said Rick Rediske, senior program manager at Grand Valley State University’s Robert B. Annis Water Resources Institute in Muskegon. They harm reproduction in ways that aren’t well known.