Column: Renewables beat natural gas

Becky Stanfield

Michigan regulators will soon decide whether to give DTE Energy the green light to build a new, billion-dollar natural gas plant in St. Clair County. This comes at a time when Michigan’s clean energy sector is stronger than ever, supporting more than 92,000 jobs across the state. Instead of clinging to fuels of the past, we should build upon this important sector of our economy. That means investing in clean energy, like solar and wind, instead of building a big, expensive natural gas plant.

A recent analysis by BW Research Partnership concluded that an energy portfolio of solar, wind and efficiency could supply Michiganians with just as much electricity as DTE’s proposed natural gas plant, while creating 10 times more construction jobs and four times more permanent jobs along the way.

That’s because building renewable energy projects, like solar gardens or wind farms, requires more workers than building a natural gas plant. It would take roughly 5,000 workers to build the wind and solar capacity and install the energy efficiency upgrades. The 5,000 jobs do not include indirect jobs created in the supply chain or the jobs created when those 5,000 clean energy construction workers spend their wages in the local economy. Compare that to DTE’s estimated 500 construction jobs to build the natural gas plant.

In DTE’s own testimony before the Public Service Commission, the company estimated it would create 35 permanent jobs at the plant, “plus additional support staff.” BW Research Partnership found a renewable energy portfolio would dwarf the gas plant in job creation, sparking nearly 140 ongoing jobs.

Investing in renewable energy would also have massive economic benefits for communities across the state. According to the report, building solar, wind and energy efficiency would generate $213.5 million in local and state tax revenue. This is much needed revenue that could go toward repairing our crumbling roads and funding our schools.

DTE’s plan is not the best option for Michiganians’ wallets. Clean energy, like solar and wind, is now cheaper than coal and cost competitive with natural gas. Prices for natural gas are subject to volatility, making it a risky long-term investment. Investing in renewable energy will provide businesses and families with certainty and stable electricity bills while saving them money. In fact, expert testimony before the Michigan Public Service Commission using DTE’s own modeling tools found building a portfolio of wind, solar and energy efficiency would save ratepayers more than $340 million.

The outcome of DTE’s proposal before the Public Service Commission has implications that could last a generation. We are at a time when prices for clean, renewable energy have declined so drastically, it is more affordable than all other kinds of energy generation. Anchoring our economy to natural gas is not the best energy plan for Michigan residents. The Michigan Public Service Commission should tell DTE Energy to go back to the drawing board and seriously look at clean energy alternatives.

Becky Stanfield is senior director for the western states with Vote Solar.