Opinion: Michigan should stay the course on renewables

Charlotte Jameson
Jameson writes: "Michigan is at a critical turning point in our transition to a clean energy future."

On Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency announced a new rule to replace the Obama-era Clean Power Plan.

The CPP was a groundbreaking effort by the federal government that would have cut carbon pollution from the energy sector 30 percent by 2030. President Trump’s new proposal, on the other hand, is a step in the wrong direction that will result in many states choosing to do little or nothing to cut their carbon emissions.

Although the federal government is dropping the ball on climate change, many states, including Michigan, are not. 

In 2016, Michigan’s Legislature adopted a renewable energy standard ensuring that 15 percent of our energy would come from renewable sources like wind and solar by 2021. On top of this, cities across the state are taking the initiative and setting 100 percent renewable energy goals and pledging to remain in the Paris Climate Agreement. Businesses are also increasingly pushing the envelope to combat climate change. Michigan’s own General Motors plans to power all of its plants with 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.

Michigan’s utilities are stepping up as well. Consumers Energy and DTE, our two largest energy providers, have begun retiring their fleets of dirty, expensive coal plants. This means reductions in toxic air pollution, which translate to less childhood asthma, fewer respiratory diseases and fewer premature deaths. Air pollution from smokestacks has been reduced by almost 50 percent since 2008, and with concerted action Michigan’s utilities should be able to cut that level in half again by 2023.

In addition to this, our utilities are exploring heavier investments in renewables. Consumers recently outlined a long-range energy plan for state regulators and predicted hitting 37 percent renewables by 2030 and 43 percent by 2040. The company has also pledged to reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent and be completely coal free by 2040.

DTE is further behind Consumers. It committed to 25 percent renewables by 2030 and an 80 percent reduction in carbon, but by 2050. DTE still heavily relies on coal generation, with 65 percent of its energy coming from coal-fired plants in 2017. Furthermore, instead of looking toward clean and affordable renewable energy as its replacement for coal, DTE is focusing on natural gas, which complicates the company’s efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions. DTE just received the greenlight to build a massive new gas plant and has already expressed interest in building another.

In the absence of leadership on the federal level, it will be even more important for states like Michigan to sustain the momentum. That means doubling down on successful state policies like our 15 percent renewable energy standard, and encouraging our utilities to move quickly away from coal to renewables.

Michigan is at a turning point in our transition to a clean energy future where the actions we take over the next few years will have an impact on our ability to achieve needed greenhouse gas reductions. As Michiganians continue to feel the negative effects of climate change, we will be watching our utilities and decision-makers closely and holding them accountable for meeting — and better yet, exceeding — the commitments they have outlined.

Charlotte Jameson is energy policy and legislative affairs director of the Michigan Environmental Council.