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Mike Hayes: GLE Co-op Must Heed Calls for More Clean Energy

Pro-efficiency, anti-coal candidate says board not listening to members

Power to Change | June 19, 2013 | By Jim Dulzo

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Jim Dulzo is the Michigan Land Use Institute’s senior energy policy specialist. Reach him at jimdulzo@mlui.org.


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Mike Hayes, who's running for the Great Lakes Energy co-op board of directors, was a leader in the creation of Mancelona's new farmers market pavilion.
Mike Hayes, center, who's running for the Great Lakes Energy co-op board of directors, worked with the Mancelona Downtown Development Authority to develop a farmers market..

Mike Hayes is retired, but he’s not taking it easy. Recently he helped organize Mancelona’s community garden and construction of its new farmers market pavilion. Now Hayes is running for the Great Lakes Energy co-op’s board of directors.

Unlike many who get involved in electric co-op boards, Hayes has experience in engineering design and electric power. He’s an electrical engineer, a former aerospace designer and self-employed electrician, and he once managed small, gas-powered generators that captured waste heat to warm the building they powered.

You can hear Hayes’ military and union background in his answers—direct, to the point, no apologies offered.

“I try to say what I feel,” he explained, “and live with what I say.”

Hayes dislikes some of what he sees at GLE, and is skeptical that it is living up to its democratic ideals. He wants more transparency and consideration of energy conservation and renewable energy development, and more opportunities for member input.

He’s using a lifetime of friendships and contacts to drive his campaign —ranging from the heavily Republican Antrim County Board of Commissioners, to members of the local Democratic Party, to former UAW brothers and sisters around the state.

“This is not a partisan issue,” he said, and added that he’s encountered nothing but positive reactions to his candidacy. People tell him, he said, that they want to see more clean energy, and wonder why GLE isn’t doing more.

We reached Hayes at home, where he’s been working the phone for his campaign.

Michigan Land Use Institute: So why are you running for GTE’s board?

Mike Hayes: I believe in conservation, and I also believe in keeping our environment safe. I like being able to breathe the air.

The Great Lakes Energy board seems intent on using coal to the exclusion of almost anything else. It is evident, reading their Country Lines magazine, that they are opposed, vehemently in some cases, to renewable energy. We need to change that direction and provide more low-cost energy from clean sources.

Wind and solar are not being utilized to their full extent. If you’ve driven to the western part of our country, you’ll see tremendous wind farms where power is being generated. It’s working well out there. It’s working in South Dakota, where the legislature revised their laws to make renewables even more acceptable and economical.

And Germany is a major user of solar cells, to the point where we manufacture solar cells here and ship them over there. There’s no reason we can’t do the same thing here.

MLUI: What’s your take on the current GLE board?

Mike Hayes: In the last issue of Country Lines, there was a picture of the board, and it said there are 118 years of experience on that board. Now Ricks Evans (a pro-clean energy board member) has been there two years. The board chair says he’s been there 27 years. So the rest must have an average of 12 years on the board.

That, in my mind, means that they have many years experience doing exactly the same thing. They are not inclined to think outside the direction that the management points them in. We need some people on the board who will think about something besides coal, oil, and nuclear power.

I don’t think the present board is thinking about anything other than, “We’ve always done it this way.”

MLUI: Have you attended GLE board meetings?

Mike Hayes: I went to the special meeting on resetting the rate structure and I was not impressed. They give lip service to allowing people to talk, but frankly their minds were pretty much made up before the meeting.

There should be regular announcements in Country Lines that a meeting will be held and members are encouraged to attend and give input. I don’t see members really being encouraged to have input. We certainly do not get the minutes of the meetings so we can see what was discussed and what was decided. That needs to change. We need to have an open board.

MLUI: How are you working your campaign?

Mike Hayes: As a UAW member, I am talking to them to see about an endorsement. Don’t know if it will happen, but I have fellow members who are encouraging me. Frankly, I’m doing word of mouth and telephone; it’s a ‘Call your friends, he’s a good candidate, we should elect him’ kind of thing.

I’m talking to Democrats because I know those people and have contacts with them. I also have good contacts with Antrim’s county commissioners, who are mostly Republicans. Even though it’s not a political issue, it gives me a bunch of names I can contact.

MLUI: The way GLE is set up, it must buy all of its power from Wolverine Power Supply Cooperative, which is still trying to build a coal plant in Rogers City. How can you overcome that?

Mike Hayes: Things are not going to change overnight. But we have to start someplace. I don’t know who on the present board besides Rick is forward- thinking enough to try to change things. He’s just one voice out of nine. We need to get people who will think in terms of what is good for the total environment, and if we don’t try, then we will end up breathing coal fumes for the rest of our lives.

MLUI: What kinds of things could GLE do, given its tie to Wolverine?

Mike Hayes: Articles in Country Lines should encourage the use of renewables and also reward conservation and point out that the greater our conservation efforts are, the better payback we get back in terms of clean environment and, frankly, lower cost.

We can certainly change our rate structure to reward efficiency. The new one penalizes low energy users. I don’t feel that’s right.

MLUI: Has GLE done much to encourage members to install renewables or efficiency measures?

Mike Hayes: I don’t see them doing that.

What I did see recently was Country Lines talking about how much stringent, proposed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations are going to cost us. Of course, they don’t say anything about the fact that the regulations are intended to safeguard air and water. They are only concerned about “it’s going to cost us more.” That’s a scare tactic.

Personally, I like to think of the total cost of power from the very beginning to end…from mining the coal to retiring plants. Every power source has effects on environment, and we need to determine which have the least effect on our environment, bearing in mind conservation should be our first goal.

We waste a lot of energy. As stewards of the earth, that is not right.

The people that I’ve talked to, the first thing they say is, I can’t even eat the fish out of Lake Michigan because of mercury [from coal burning.] They want to see more renewable energy. It really strikes close to home: Because of this pollution I can’t eat the food.

I’m not hearing anything about pricing us out of existence.

MLUI: Did you know that DTE Energy just signed a wind power purchase agreement for about 5 cents per kilowatt-hour? That’s cheaper than an old coal plant.

Mike Hayes: I hadn’t heard that. I do know the cost of wind is not as great as people will have you believe and will continue to go down as technology is developed.

MLUI: Are you doing much in your home in regard to either efficiency or renewable energy?

Mike Hayes: We’re not to LEDs yet because I’ve got [CFL] bulbs working well; to try to change that all at once gets a little expensive, and I have to be realistic.

We live in a small home. We built it for two people, so it’s not a large place; we do use wood, and wood smoke does pollute, but the house is well insulated. I would like to think in terms of some solar collectors, which would be good for hot water and heating the house itself. Our windows provide a lot of solar in the winter and some days we don’t even have to have the fire going.

MLUI: One of your sister co-ops, Cherryland Electric, just started a community solar project along with Traverse City Light & Power.

Mike Hayes: I think that is certainly a possibility, but the board has to set the policy. If they don’t, it’s not going to happen. I believe it would be a good idea.

MLUI: What are your thoughts on the Rogers City coal plant?

Mike Hayes: Perhaps if enough people are concerned about coal, and speak up, maybe we can stop it. All we can do is try. Wolverine has tied building that coal plant to building a little wind farm nearby, but they won’t do it without building the plant.

That’s pretty closed thinking. Why not do a wind farm there?

MLUI: Given the economics of coal, and where the utility is heading, I can’t understand why Wolverine continues to insist on building that plant.

Mike Hayes: Whenever anybody talks about a particular form of energy production, you have to stop and ask, what is their motivation? Is it self-interest? Is it community interest? All too often, it is personal gain.

We do have a difficulty in that private corporations are not subject to open meetings, so they can pretty much do what they like. (The) only way that will change is if the thinking of the various boards change and become open to their members. Right now I don’t see the GLE board open to their membership.

The GLE Board of Directors mail-in ballot will be in the July-August issue of Country Lines magazine. Members may vote for any candidate on the ballot, not just those in their own district. You can reach Mike Hayes at mjhholly@avci.net.

** Read our interview with Mary Brower, the other GLE board candidate who favors efficiency and renewable energy over more coal power.

Jim Dulzo is the Michigan Land Use Institute’s senior energy policy specialist. Reach him at jimdulzo@mlui.org

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