How Does Hydropower Benefit Michigan?

By Karina Allen & Kate Nachazel

Michigan has its roots in hydroelectricity, which has provided reliable energy to the state for over 100 years. Hydropower is an invaluable resource due to its potential to be produced on a small scale and in less accessible locations like in the U.P. Our state also has the geographic advantage of flowing waterways and changing elevations, providing great potential for hydropower. Unlike wind and solar energy, hydroelectricity can still be produced on cloudy days without wind, making it a necessary resource when the demand for electricity is high. Moreover, hydroelectric plants are cheaper to build and maintain than solar, nuclear gas, and wind facilities.

Despite the benefits of this low-cost, low-emissions option, Michigan must face decisions that weigh hydropower’s value to our energy market against the capital costs required to provide much-needed upgrades. As the state looks ahead to secure future energy investments, it is important that our policy allows all forms of energy, including hydroelectricity, to compete on a level playing field.

MICEF fellows Kate Nachazel and Karina Allen are seeking to learn more about hydropower’s value to Michigan’s grid, as well as how our water resources can produce energy more efficiently when paired with other renewables, like wind power. They plan to report on the federal policies that impact the development of hydropower projects, like the DOE Water Power Program, and explore the environmental impacts of retrofitting existing structures to produce hydropower. Finally, they plan to develop policy recommendations targeting hydropower development and its economic feasibility in Michigan and create an educational report to be distributed to the State Legislature.