Remember last year’s ballot initiative to amend our state constitution to require Michigan utilities to supply 25 percent of energy from renewable sources by 2025? Sadly, opponents were successful in scaring Michigan consumers into believing that such a mandate would cost consumers 12 billion in higher energy costs. They also convinced voters that “hometown energy providers” would continue “their commitment to renewable energies” without a mandate.
But the opposite is true. The Legislature passed the Clean, Renewable and Efficient Energy Act in 2008. RES required Michigan’s utility companies to get 10 percent of their electricity from clean and renewable sources by 2015. It also put into place an Energy Optimization program requiring Michigan utilities to help their customers use energy more efficiently by 1 percent every year.
Since 2008, according to a recent Michigan legislative report, there has been a dramatic reduction in the cost of renewable energy, with the latest wind energy contracts coming in 50 percent cheaper than coal. Michigan’s Energy Efficiency program has provided the cheapest source of baseload power (over 6x cheaper than coal). For every $1 invested in energy efficiency, customers are saving $3.55 in energy costs.
Although 70 of 71 electric companies in Michigan are on track to meet the 10 percent by 2015, most of these same utilities have declared an unwillingness to do anything more unless required by law. This is notwithstanding the fact that renewable energy is cheaper and cleaner than current or proposed fossil fuel options. Without legislative action, Michigan’s progress toward clean energy will come to a halt.
Consider that Michigan currently gets over 50 percent of our electricity from coal, all of which is imported from other states. In turn, Michigan sends $1.2 billion a year — and the jobs that money creates — to other states to pay for it.
Michigan’s clean energy sector already supports 20,500 jobs and $5 billion in annual economic activity according to a report by conservative Hill Group. Homegrown renewable energy and efficiency are strong economic drivers, attracting investment and creating jobs that can’t be shipped out of state or overseas.
Expanding our use of clean energy will build on our manufacturing strength and will allow us to re-tool and reopen closed manufacturing facilities. A 25 percent RES and 2 percent Energy Efficiency standard is projected to create over 44,000 new jobs in Michigan.
Renewables are cleaner, better for our environment and better for our health. Clean energy creates jobs and saves consumers on energy bills. But the utility companies are not going to do it on their own. We need our state legislature to mandate higher renewable standards.
Shari Pollesch is an environmental advocate and an attorney. She hails from Brighton.