FILE - Solar panel, solar farm

Line 5 proponents and energy experts are pushing back against several Michigan Native American tribal member claims that operator Enbridge’s current and proposed pipeline projects pose environmental threats or will be imminently rendered obsolete by renewable energy sources.

“To state renewable energy will displace natural gas and other forms of fossil fuel in the near future is completely unrealistic,” said Jason Hayes, environmental director at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, in an interview with The Center Square.

Hayes noted, “The fuels being transported by Line 5 meet at least two key needs for Michigan residents. Heating and electricity generation make up one portion, and transportation fuels make up another.”

He continued, “You’re not replacing the transportation fuels that keep our cars running with electric energy in the next five years. Even the most optimistic members of the green movement admit that’s just not possible.

"Second, transitioning the more than 80% of Michigan homes that heat with either natural gas or propane to electric heating in the next five years would be, at best, cost prohibitive. Again; not going to happen," he said.

"Approximately 17 percent of U.S. energy currently comes from renewable sources such as hydro, biomass, geothermal, wind and solar. While renewables are getting cheaper, they still can’t provide the always on electricity supply that we all need. The wind doesn’t blow all the time and the sun doesn’t shine all the time, so we need fossil fuels or nuclear to provide reliable and affordable electricity for the majority of the time that renewable sources can’t."

The most optimistic members of the green movement concede that completely replacing fossil fuels with electric energy in the next five years isn't possible, Hayes said, and also would be cost prohibitive.

As reported by the Detroit News, several Michigan Native American tribes are pondering whether to pursue filing lawsuits to remove the current Enbridge pipeline and stop a proposed $500 million tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac. The proposed tunnel would be buried 100 feet beneath the bedrock below the Great Lakes while the current line has been operational with routine maintenance and without incident since 1953.

Enbridge’s projects have been stymied by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel, both of whom campaigned against Line 5 prior to being elected last November. Whitmer rescinded a deal made between Enbridge and former Gov. Rick Snyder that would have granted Enbridge five years to construct the tunnel.

Instead, Whitmer told Enbridge the company only had two years to remove the current pipeline with the only other option of transporting the fuel by tanker trucks. Nessel filed a lawsuit in late June to decommission Line 5.  

Five Native American tribes are now considering legal action against Line 5. Kathie Brosemer, environmental director for the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Indians, told the Detroit News she’s skeptical about Enbridge’s intentions and the future of the North American oil and gas industry. Tribal leaders are “questioning whether the tunnel was ever viable with renewable energy making inroads against the fossil fuel industry,” according to News reporter Beth LeBlanc.

Isaac Orr, a policy fellow at Center for the American Experiment, a Minnesota-based public policy organization, has dealt with similar opposition to Enbridge’s Line 3 in his state. He told The Center Square in a phone interview that Brosemer’s projection displayed “energy illiteracy.”

Orr continued: “This is all magical thinking by individuals who seemingly don’t live in the real world.”

He calculated that Michigan energy derives from 14 times more fossil fuels than wind and solar combined. “Considering Michigan’s utility grid depends 93 percent on oil and only 7 percent on wind and solar, I’d say oil seems pretty instrumental and will stay that way for quite some time,” he said.

Regional Editor

Bruce Walker is a regional editor at The Center Square. He previously worked as editor at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s MichiganScience magazine and The Heartland Institute’s InfoTech & Telecom News.