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Report: Natural gas, nuclear power lead clean, affordable energy

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Natural gas and nuclear power lead other power sources when it comes to generating clean and affordable energy, a recent report from two Michigan entities says.

The 130-page report authored by Northwood University and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, both in Midland, gave a B- grade to coal after analyzing eight energy sectors based on capacity, reliability, environmental and human impact, innovation, and market feasibility.

“We ranked eight key energy industry sectors based on their ability to meet growing demand for affordable, reliable and clean electric generation,” co-author Dr. Timothy G. Nash, executive director of the McNair Center for the Advancement of Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship at Northwood University, said in a statement.

The report gave the sector’s final grades:

• Natural Gas: A.

• Nuclear Power: B+.

• Coal: B-.

• Hydroelectric: B-.

• Petroleum: C-.

• Geothermal: D+.

• Solar: F.

• Wind: F.

The report follows Michigan’s aim for a 100% renewable energy standard by 2040. However, the U.S. Energy Information Administration says renewables provided 12% of Michigan’s electricity net generation in 2022, and wind energy accounted for about two-thirds of that power.

Switching energy sources from coal, nuclear, and natural gas to wind and solar is challenging because the current grid is designed for fossil fuels that give baseline energy, not intermittent energy produced when the sun shines and the wind blows, report authors said.

Study co-author Jason Hayes, director of energy and environmental policy at the Mackinac Center, said that a grid relying too much on intermittent energy could threaten the reliability of the North American electric grid.

“A functional grid is imperative for a healthy and productive society,” Hayes said in a statement. “It’s critical that we start prioritizing reliable energy sources like natural gas and nuclear to ensure that people aren’t left in the dark.”

The report examines the environmental impacts of wind and solar such as recycling wind turbines, wildlife harm, and the moral quandary of using solar panels created often by slave labor.

Wind and solar don’t emit carbon dioxide but their battery backups and supply chain processes enact environmental harm.

Both require critical minerals, many of which are mined and refined in countries like China and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which enact few protections against human rights violations or environmental protections.

The report suggests that utility companies and state and federal lawmakers should prioritize clean, reliable, and affordable energy sources.