Renewable energy crucial to Michigan

Chris Kolb

The $10 billion a year Michigan businesses and residents pay for electricity makes it clear how central the energy sector is to the health of our economy.

For a strong manufacturing sector, we need an energy strategy that keeps costs down, minimizes the risk of price spikes, promotes economic development and preserves excellent reliability. Making energy efficiency and renewable power the foundation of our energy policy will achieve those goals while also protecting public health and the environment — themselves core components of a thriving economy.

To help Michigan regain its position as a manufacturing leader, state leaders should enact a strategy that:

■ Strives to make Michigan factories among the most efficient in the world. To get there, we need robust energy efficiency programs that help manufacturers turn waste heat into electricity or install other technologies that reduce energy costs to improve their bottom lines and global competitiveness.

■ Ensures renewable power plays an ever-expanding role in Michigan’s energy portfolio. Volatile fossil fuel markets expose manufacturers to future price shocks, while wind and sun provide the long-term certainty needed for sound business planning. In fact, wind power not only is today’s cheapest form of energy, it also comes with a 20-year price guarantee. Adding more wind and sun to Michigan’s energy mix also will capitalize on our engineering and manufacturing expertise to continue economic growth and job creation in the state’s booming clean-energy industry.

■ Clears regulatory roadblocks to on-site renewable power generation. Policymakers should make it easier for manufacturers to put unused space to work by installing renewable energy systems. For example, as their prices plummet, rooftop solar arrays will give Michigan factories access to clean, affordable energy at peak demand times.

Officials also need to revamp Michigan’s regulatory system to focus on long-range energy planning. They should require utilities to present their plans for meeting future energy demand to state regulators at the Public Service Commission, triggering a robust public discussion on how well their plans meet the goals identified above.

Michigan is on its way to a more balanced energy portfolio and greater job creation if we continue our smart investments in eliminating energy waste and increasing the use of Michigan-produced clean, renewable power.

Chris Kolb is president of the Michigan Environmental Council.