A battle is brewing in Michigan over an effort to amend the state constitution to include a renewable energy mandate.
The proposed amendment would commit the state to getting 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources like wind, solar, and biomass power by 2025.
While other states require that a certain percentage of power be generated from renewable sources, none have put this into their constitution. This means Michigan would be the first, if voters pass Proposition 3 in November.
“Our public service commission has reported that the cost of renewable energy is quite a bit cheaper than electricity form a new coal plant would be,” said Hugh McDiarmid, communication director of the Michigan Environmental Council. “We want to keep the momentum going, we are creating a more balanced energy portfolio.”
Since 2008, Michigan law requires that 10 percent of the state’s electricity be generated from renewable energy sources by 2015.
Proposition 3 would limit utility rates increases to consumers to 1 percent per year electric, and allow for annual extensions of the 2025 deadline in order to prevent rate increases more than 1 percent.
It also requires the state legislature to pass additional laws that encourage the use of Michigan-made equipment and in-state workers.
“We think that putting 25 percent into electricity generation where we know that the cost of fuel will forever be free is a pretty good investment for our energy mix,” McDiarmid added. “We think it will stabilize rates and create more certainty.”
The MEC is part of Michigan Energy, Michigan Jobs, a coalition that includes the Sierra Club, the American Wind Energy Association, the NAACP, the Natural Resources Defense Council, United Auto Workers, and Michigan Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow.
A report by MEC estimates that between 2016 and 2025, would drive residential utility higher by about 50 cents per month on average, but by 2030, customers would save over 80 cents per month due to the 25 percent renewable standard.
Another study by Michigan State University, supported by the Michigan Environmental Council, projected the amendment would create 74,495 jobs and require investments of $10.3 billion in renewable energy.
“Their jobs claim is a cruel hoax,” said Steven Transeth policy director for Clean Affordable Renewable Energy (CARE), a coalition against the mandate that includes, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, several International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers local unions, Latin Americans for Social & Economic Development, DTE Energy, and the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.
“If you take their study and boil it down, you only get jobs — maybe in the thousands,” Transeth added. “And most of those gains would be offset by other jobs lost in the energy industry.”
A study by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy showed that by 2025 the mandate would cost the state 10,540 jobs, increase the average annual household electric bills by $180, and impose net costs of $2.55 billion on the state economy.
Most of the increased generation is expected to come from wind power, according to McDiarmid.
“The lion’s share of the generation will be from wind,” he said, adding that even with the production of the federal Wind Production Tax Credit, wind would still be a major source of generation. “Wind works in Michigan, with or without the production tax credit.”
According to Detroit News, wind farms faced fervent opposition in many communities in Michigan, and residents along Lake Michigan worked hard to keep companies from putting wind turbines offshore.
Wind power only made up 0.3 percent of the state’s total net electricity generation in 2010, according to the Energy Information Administration. Likewise, renewables only made up 3.7 percent of the state’s net electricity generation in 2010.
Fossil fuels still play a significant role in statewide energy production. Coal represented 54 percent of Michigan’s net electricity generation in 2011, though much of the coal is imported from Wyoming, according to the EIA. Another 30 percent of Michigan’s 2011 net electricity generation were provided by three nuclear plants.
“The Proposal 3 energy mandate will put a $12 billion burden on Michigan’s electric customers, but the real bottom line is the financial harm that Proposal 3 will inflict on each family and business,” said Megan Brown, spokesperson for the CARE for Michigan Coalition, in a statement.
Research by Public Sector Consultants, a Michigan-based research firm, shows that renewable energy generation is 67 percent more expensive than conventional energy generation.
“There is an investment cost up front, it’s not very much, and we think the voters should have a chance to decide whether or not they want to do this,” said McDiarmid.
One poll done in Michigan done by MRG for the Michigan Energy and Jobs Initiative found that 58 percent public supported it and 31 percent opposed it. While another poll by Glengariff done for the Detroit News and WDIV-TV found 49 percent supported it and 37 percent were in opposition.
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