Editorial: Voters blow back on windmills

The Detroit News

Environmental activists and some Democratic elected officials are pushing for an immediate shutdown of Line 5, the pipeline that carries petroleum products across the Straits of Mackinac.

Windmills are a favored source of alternative energy.

Many, including Attorney General Dana Nessel, reject the solution crafted by former Gov. Rick Snyder and Enbridge, which operates the pipeline, to bury it in a tunnel deep below the lake bed. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who vowed to shut down Line 5 on the campaign trail, has softened her position since taking office saying she'll discuss a tunnel built on a faster timetable than the seven to 10 years allowed for in Snyder's deal.

Activists, however, aren't looking for a solution for moving the light crude oil, gases and propane that the Upper Peninsula depends on for heating its homes and the Lower Peninsula uses to keep its factories running, trucks on the roads and jets in the air.

They don't want those fossil fuels to move at all. Instead, they are hoping the elimination of Line 5 will hasten the state's conversion to renewable energy.

But a new report from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy confirms that while a pipeline can be shutdown with the signing of a court order, getting the renewable energy infrastructure in place is more difficult.

The center looked at the May 7 election for signs of public sentiment on renewable energy, and what it found is not encouraging.

Three Michigan communities had measures on the local ballot relating to industrial wind farms, and all three were defeated.

Voters in Bay County recalled a township supervisor who was pushing the development of wind farms. Jonesfield Township in Saginaw County rejected a zoning change that would have enabled more turbines. And in Baraga County, voters turned down a zoning ordinance sought by a British wind power developer.

These are small communities, but indicative of the chronic problem utility companies have in siting wind farms. While the public may voice support for renewable energy, when it comes to seeing windmills — or solar panels — rise in their backyards, they want no part of it.

The Mackinac Center notes that the group Interstate Informed Citizens Coalition finds that more than "twice as many townships have restricted wind development in their zoning ordinances than have adopted permissive wind ordinances."

Renewable energy is the future for America. But so are cleaner burning fuels such as natural gas and nuclear. 

But at present, Michigan continues to need a mix of energy choices to keep its economy healthy and growing.

Renewable energy is not advanced enough to satisfy 100% of the state's energy demand. Prematurely choking off other power sources won't change that reality.