A Nov. 6 ballot proposal to increase the mandate for generating renewable energy in Michigan will create jobs, stabilize electric rates and improve the environment, a key proponent argues.
Members of the Michigan Energy Michigan Jobs coalition that collected the voter signatures to put Proposal 3 on the ballot this fall made the case for increasing the Michigan renewable energy portfolio standard to 25 percent by 2025 in a meeting with The Muskegon Chronicle Editorial Board this week.
Michigan Energy Michigan Jobs spokeswoman Dianne Byrum, a former Democratic state senator from Lansing, was in Muskegon days after Proposal 3 opponents also addressed the newspaper editors. CARE – Clean Affordable Renewable Energy – was represented by former Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema, a Republican from Kent County.
Michigan already has a “renewable portfolio standard” of 10 percent electrical production from renewable sources by 2015 and that has worked well for the state’s energy users and public utilities, Byrum said.
“We believe that it is working,” Byrum said of the 2008 Michigan energy law that includes the renewable standard. “Let’s not stop. With technology if you stand still you are going to be behind. Michigan has to compete in the new energy race.”
Job creation is the best argument for the passage of Proposal 3, which is an amendment to the state constitution, Byrum argues. Michigan Energy Michigan Jobs is a nonpartisan coalition led by 250 small businesses interested in energy policy, 15 labor unions, health professionals, academic scientists, environmentalists and members of faith-based organizations, she said.
A Michigan State University study concluded that passage of the “25 by 25” proposal would lead to the creation of $10.3 billion in new investment in renewable energy, mainly in wind, solar and biogas projects.
That would generate 74,495 “job years,” with 31,513 of them coming in construction jobs and 42,982 coming in operation and maintenance jobs, MSU researchers predict. A “job year” is the employment of one worker for 12 months.
Michigan Energy Michigan Jobs proponents of Proposal 3 argue that the state’s economy would benefit from a reduction of the current $1.7 billion in imported energy, mainly coal from other states to power Michigan’s coal plants. But Proposal 3 will also stabilize electric rates for residential customers and businesses, they said.
Looking around the Great Lakes region, most other states have more than a 10 percent renewable energy standard. The 25-by-25 standard now in Illinois has led to renewable sources, particularly wind, has cut electricity prices in that state by more than $176 million, according to the Illinois Power Agency.
Byrum said that Michigan has about 60 percent of its electricity generated by aging coal power plants and that has most recently led to a 22 percent increase in electrical rates by Consumers Energy and 30 percent by DTE Energy, as the two state public utilities must pay for the increased cost of transportation of coal to Michigan.
Finally, Byrum said nurses and other health professionals are supporting Proposal 3 because burning coal is harmful to human health in environmental air quality issues that create more childhood asthma, mercury in Great Lakes fish and lung problems with senior citizens.
The main issue of the CARE opponents to Proposal 3 is that it unnecessarily binds the future of Michigan’s energy policy. Opponents want to wait for the legislative review of the 2008 energy law coming in 2016 and not lock long-term energy policy into the Michigan Constitution.
Michigan would be joining three other states with ballot-driven renewable energy standards if voters approve Proposal 3, but it would be the only constitutional mandate, CARE spokespersons say. The constitutional amendment path rather than legislative action is a “radical” and unneeded approach, opponents argue.
Byrum said that getting the Michigan Legislature to address the renewable energy issue in the face opposition from Consumers Energy and DTE is nearly impossible, because of the strangle-hold the corporations have on legislators in both parties. CARE is a coalition led by the public utilities that also includes the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the Michigan Manufacturers Association.
Byrum said that CARE will easily outspend the Michigan Energy Michigan Jobs coalition in the Proposal 3 campaign, but that early polling is trending toward favorable voter reaction to the 25-by-25 renewable energy standard.