**This column originally appeared in the March 15, 2015, edition of Crain’s Detroit Business
Gov. Rick Snyder recently unveiled his long-awaited energy policy goals, and they are good ones. But with the most conservative Republicans in Lansing pointed in a different direction, success requires party moderates to work with Democrats, who back a platform resembling the governor’s.
Snyder wants Michigan to get 30 to 40 percent of its power from clean renewables and energy efficiency by 2025. This reflects his administration’s 2013 findings on just how much Michigan can clean up and modernize its energy supply, and is fired by the spectacular success of the state’s 2008 law setting a 10-percent renewables standard, which pauses on Dec. 31, and an ongoing 1-percent efficiency standard.
$2.9 billion in investments, sharply falling renewables costs, thousands of good jobs, cuts in health- and climate-threatening power plant emissions: Clearly, Snyder sees the huge opportunity more clean development can bring to our manufacturers, workers, businesses, and families.
It’s disappointing that he made no firm proposals and only said “goals,” not “standards” or “mandates.” Only firm numbers can get additional, spectacular future results.
But even with Michigan’s past results, Snyder literally faces a tough House.
Last week, state Rep. Aric Nesbitt proposed calling trash and tire burning “renewable energy”; mothballing or killing renewable and efficiency standards because they’re “mandates,” therefore bad; and substituting a “clean energy standard” that counts burning natural gas as “clean.”
Senate Republicans are contemplating many of the same things. Sen. Mike Nofs may unveil bills less onerous than Nesbitt’s, but likely not nearly what Snyder suggested, which would make Michigan a clean-energy leader.
So, with the most conservative legislators resisting an unambiguous path toward additional, dollar-saving efficiency and true renewables because they dislike telling utilities what to do, Snyder stuck with “goals.” He needn’t be so shy. Our electric monopolies daily manage hundreds of standards or mandates; that’s how regulators make sure they behave like they have to compete for customers.
Most of those customers, according to in-state polls, including several by conservative groups, want more renewables and would pay a bit more for them. Happily, that’s largely unnecessary: As Snyder said, renewables are very competitive with new gas plants, and efficiency is downright cheap.
Efficiency, renewables, and something he skipped—power management that shuffles some electricity use from demand peaks to valleys—can meet much of the alleged capacity shortfall utilities are suddenly so upset about. They prefer building more gas plants because it gets a better return on investment, but that’s a far cry from giving ratepayers a better deal, especially given gas’ price volatility, which Snyder acknowledged is an important consideration.
With wind and solar employing more people than mining, Michigan’s manufacturers ready to become leaders in the world’s most crucial endeavor, some Republican who supported the 2008 law now in the Senate, and Democrats supporting something close to Snyder’s goals, Michigan could get a new, rational, 10-year energy policy.
Snyder should push hard. Many businesses, unions, health professionals, investors, churches, and conservatives will back him, helping him fashion a guaranteed, no-regrets legacy-builder.
Jim Dulzo is the Michigan Land Use Institute’s senior energy policy specialist. Reach him at [email protected].