Editorial: Energy for the future

The Detroit News

Like it or not, coal has a dwindling place in Michigan's energy future. Federal regulations assure that. Renewable forms of energy, nuclear power and natural gas will take its place, along with ramped up efforts to eliminate energy waste.

That reality was at the heart of Gov. Rick Snyder's energy plan outlined last week at the Electrical Industry Training Center in Warren, where he announced a pragmatic 10-year strategy for the state.

The governor adequately married the state's need to shift dependence off coal — again, largely because of tightening federal mandates — with a market-driven approach to increasing efficiency and use of renewables.

"We want to respect the marketplace in terms of making sure it makes good economic sense," Snyder said.

It's a solid way for Michigan to deal with the issue every state is balancing, particularly in light of strong-arming from the Environmental Protection Agency, regarding energy affordability and environmental concerns.

Michigan's per-capita energy usage is 38 percent above the national average because of the state's heavy industrial base, and users here pay 6 percent more for heat and electricity.

The state also relies on coal more than most states, generating 59 percent of its electricity from the fossil fuel. Snyder said the state should decrease that to between 34 and 43 percent over the next 10 years.

That makes sense. Many coal plants are too old to be cost-effectively retrofitted to meet new EPA requirements. And increasing reliance on nuclear, ramping up natural gas and renewables and minimizing energy waste should help the state close the gap.

Interestingly, Snyder doesn't propose an increase in the current 10 percent mandate for renewables. Rather, he suggests the growing markets for both natural gas and renewables will dictate how much of each energy type is used.

If current prices are any indication, natural gas will likely be the more affordable option for the next decade, although the cost of wind power is dropping. Renewables don't provide base load energy at this point, so they'll always be a secondary power source, but an important one. Siting windmills is also a challenge.

Still, Snyder envisions clean energy — nuclear and renewables — will make up 30 percent of the state's power generation, an amount roughly equal to what natural gas will produce.

Snyder's approach is more realistic than the alternative offered by Democrats, who proposed increasing the renewable mandate to 25 percent over the next decade.

Regarding electricity, Snyder left the option for utility choice on the table. Competition helps keep prices low and is good for consumers.

The state, however, does need a regulatory environment that gives utility companies some certainty of demand for its product, and the governor rightly said companies other than the major two utility providers in the state must guarantee capacity. Customers can't be allowed to jump back and forth between companies with little notice.

Snyder's reasonable plan for energy in the state has support from both traditional and renewable energy groups. It's a solid strategy that should assure reliable energy sources for the next decade.