Panel discusses economic and environmental benefits of renewable energy sources


From Left to Right Scott Hawken, Liesl Clark, Teresa Hatcher, and Tom Rohrer speak about ways renewable energy can benefit Michigan Communities on Oct. 24 in Anspach Hall.

A renewable energy advocate stressed the importance of reducing energy use whenever possible during "The 21st Century 'Clean Energy' Economy: Crossing Boundaries" panel. 

About 30 students, faculty and community members gathered in Anspach Hall Oct. 24 to learn about the economic and environmental effects of renewable energy. 

The College of Humanities and Social and Behavioral Sciences hosted a panel discussion featuring three professionals within the energy sector of Michigan:

  • Panelist Scott Hawken, director of project development at Apex Clean Energy
  • Liesl Clark, president of the Michigan Energy Innovation Business Council
  • Teresa Hatcher, director of renewable energy at CMS Energy. 

The discussion was moderated by Tom Rohrer, director of Central Michigan University’s Great Lakes Institute for Sustainable Systems.

The panelists described work they are doing in Michigan's energy sector and shared future plans within the industry. 

Apex Clean Energy sells wind turbines and solar panels to large-scale consumers, Hawken said. Some concerns about the dangers wind turbines pose to birds and bats, and the danger to residents’ hearing were discussed.

Hawken said Apex works closely with researchers to learn the impact wind turbines have on residents and wildlife in the areas it has developed or plans to develop. 

He said researchers for Apex conduct wildlife surveys in areas it wants to place turbines. If there is a high population of birds, especially eagles, Apex typically chooses to build turbines elsewhere. He explained that there are no peer-reviewed studies proving wind turbines have any negative impacts on human health.

Clark is a partner of 5 Lakes Energy, a clean energy consulting firm that works to make energy sources, like wind and solar energy, more available and affordable to consumers. They work closely with businesses, organizations and government agencies wanting to learn about clean energy sources and how to get involved in the industry. Clark and the other panelists discussed the economic benefits of renewable energy sources. 

By using wind and solar energy, communities can provide enough energy for all residents and save money on operation costs, Clark said. It costs more money to operate a coal power plant than it does to maintain solar panels and wind turbines, Clark said.

She added communities can benefit from stable electricity prices and can sell excess energy to make a profit and provide more services for residents.

Hatcher is an engineer who works for CMS Energy, a company that provides gas and electricity to 6.7 million Michigan residents. She said CMS is working to make 15 percent of the energy it produces come from renewable energy sources by 2021 to comply with the Michigan renewable portfolio standard. 

While Hatcher is an advocate for renewable energy sources, she said it's best to reduce energy use whenever possible. 

“The cheapest electron out there is the one you don't need to use,” Hatcher said.

After the formal discussion, audience members had the opportunity to speak with the panelists individually. Many students talked to the panelists about internships within the renewable energy sector. 

Clean energy jobs in Michigan increased by 5.3 percent last year, Liesl said, which is three times higher than the average job growth in other sectors.

Holt sophomore Kyle DeLong took an interest in renewable energy after conducting research regarding clean energy for one of his classes. After the formal discussion, he decided to talk to Hatcher about the possibility of interning at CMS Energy in Lansing.

As a meteorology major, DeLong wanted to know what opportunities CMS Energy has for meteorology students. He said theres an added benefit of talking to Hatcher.

DeLong thought it would give him an advantage when applying for an internship if he knew someone at the company.

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” he said. 

Audience members were encouraged to talk to their legislators about developing more renewable energy sources and sponsoring legislation that encourages renewable energy.

The panel discussion was sponsored by the CMU School of Public Service and Global Citizenship, the Great Lakes Institute for Sustainable Systems and the College of Humanities and Social and Behavioral Sciences.