Column: State needs sound energy policies

Jason Hayes

The opening days of the year are the perfect time to ensure we have clearly outlined our goals for 2018. Michigan residents want a clean, healthy environment; access to affordable, reliable and clean energy; and a strong, vibrant economy that produces jobs and attracts business to the state.

This November candidates will be staking out their positions on important environmental and energy policy issues as they vie for votes. To give them a little help, we have outlined the following five energy and environmental policy ideas as a good place to start.

■ Repeal Michigan’s renewable energy mandate. Renewable energyadvocates are clear about two things. First, they tell us, renewable energy is here to stay. Second, they also tell us that, thanks to ongoing advances in technology, it is competitive with other energy options. Michigan’s elected officials should take them at their word. If renewable energy is competitive and here to stay, it should not need special government favors, subsidies or market protections any longer.

■ Expand electricity choice. The federal Energy Information Administration reports that, at 15.3 cents per kilowatt hour, Michigan had the highest retail electricity rates in the Midwest in 2016. But from 2000-08, when Michigan had open electricity competition, we led the pack on keeping price increaseslow.

Michigan’s monopoly electric utilities stifle competition, kill customer choice and keep our electricity prices high. Competition, by contrast, helps to provide low-cost, reliable electricity options. In 2018, elected officials should remove the 10 percent cap on Michigan’s electricity choice markets, let people choose their electricity provider again, and let energy producers compete for business.

■ Protect water and energy supplies – finalize a plan for Line 5. There is an intense debate over the safety and long-term reliability of the pipeline that traverses the Straits of Mackinac. The Great Lakes are an internationally significant water resource and Michigan’s government must take every reasonable step to protect their water quality.

At the same time, the oil and natural gas liquids transported by Line 5 are essential to heating homes and powering workplaces across the state of Michigan, meaning demands to just “shut it down” are not realistic. This year, policymakers must decide whether Line 5 can be made safe for continued use, or if it needs to be replaced with a safer pipeline.

■ Make Michigan a natural gas hub. The Energy Information Administrationreports that with 1.1 trillion cubic feet of underground storage available in 2015, Michigan had more capacity to store natural gas than any other state in the nation. Michigan’s geology and location makes it a natural hub for the rapidly expanding natural gas market.

■ Reform the Department of Environmental Quality. Arbitrary DEQ decisions cost one Michigan business owner hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and years in court over an issue regulators later said had literally evaporated. Many other Michigan business and land owners have made similar complaints about the DEQ overexerting its regulatory authority.

The value of a healthy, thriving business community to Michigan’s economy is obvious. Essential environmental protection is an obvious need, too, but arbitrary regulatory decisions harm the state’s economic well-being without actually protecting the environment. In 2018, Michigan’s elected officials must require legislative approval of any state-level environmental regulations that go beyond federal standards.

Jason Hayes is director of environmental policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.