Why we need the 25 x 25 renewable energy plan

September 4, 2012 | |

In November, Michigan voters can point toward a bright economic and environmental future by approving “25 x 25,” which requires that 25 percent of Michigan’s energy come from renewable sources by 2025.

Hans Voss

The proposal would trigger $10.3 billion in investment in Michigan and create 74,000 jobs over the next 13 years, according to a recent Michigan State University study. It would increase our energy independence and make Michigan what it should be: a world leader in renewable energy research, manufacturing and development.

Approving 25 x 25 is one of the most distinct and important steps we can take to create a better future for Michigan. That makes it one of the most important things on the ballot

The proposal is a modern-day example of a tradition defined by former Governor William Milliken of building a competitive economy around quality of life and a clean environment while continuing our proud history of industry-leading innovation.

As executive director of the Michigan Land Use Institute, I’ve worked for years with members, colleagues and partners to move that Milliken tradition forward. Sometimes our work is tangible, like coordinating a home weatherization program to save energy, or facilitating loans to farmers eager to grow their business. Other times it’s broader and less defined, like publishing educational pieces, supporting an ordinance, or trying to influence crucial legislation like the current farm bill.

Learn more about 25x25 at Michigan Energy Michigan Jobs

Whatever we’re doing, we’re always measuring benefits. And we think 25 x 25’s benefits are sky-high—higher than anything proposed for Michigan in the nearly 20 years we’ve been at it. They are both massive and long lasting.

But is it doable? Yes! Michigan is already on track to achieve its current 10 percent renewable energy standard by 2015. Twenty-nine other states already have renewable energy standards, some of which shoot for much higher goals: California is aiming for 33 percent by 2020, and New York is working toward 30 percent by 2015. Even among our Midwest neighbors, Minnesota, Illinois and Iowa already adopted 25 percent by 2025 standards; Iowa is already producing 21 percent of its power from renewables.

Michigan not only has the sun and wind to compete with those states, but we also have two crucial, enviable edges—an unrivaled modern manufacturing legacy, and a proud history of innovation.

The economic argument is real.

Michigan produces most of its power from coal plants today. These are expensive to operate and many are in need of major investments just to keep them operational. There’s a tiny coal plant in Holland, for example, that needs $28 million in pollution upgrades just to stay legal.

And each year we send $1.36 billion of our money to Appalachia and Wyoming to buy coal. A good portion of that money would stay right here in Michigan with homegrown renewable energy.

Plus, 25 x 25 means lots of new, good-paying jobs for Michigan—manufacturing, exporting, selling, financing, transporting, building and operating new, clean-energy systems.

No wonder the Michigan Energy Michigan Jobs campaign to support 25 x 25 is non-partisan. For example, Saul Anuzis, recent chair of the Michigan Republican Party and a national political player, enthusiastically endorsed 25 x 25.

“I am proud of the fact that many of the states that are at the forefront of responsible renewable energy standards are led by Republican governors and legislators,” Anuzis said. “Michigan is uniquely positioned with our industrial base and growing energy sector to be a national leader in manufacturing of renewable energy equipment and systems.”

We’ll need every Democrat, Republican and Independent vote we can attract because Consumers Energy and DTE Energy have donated more than $2.9 million each to a massive campaign to defeat 25 x 25. Anuzis calls these utilities “government-granted monopolies with unprecedented political clout, PACs, and influence” that oppose the measure  “in order to protect their market position – the status quo.”

The opponents are saying things like:

It will raise electric rates. The proposal specifically limits any renewables-related rate increase to no more than 1 percent annually. And, according to the a recent analysis by experts in utility economics and the experience of states like Iowa, renewables can actually help lower rates over time.

We should leave it up to the Legislature to develop energy policy. Lansing-watchers will tell you: Industry lobbyists would prevent Michigan from catching up with our neighbors on renewable energy policy. There’s even pending state legislation to repeal our current 10-percent renewables standard.

We shouldn’t tamper with the constitution. The state constitution specifically defines that a majority of voters can amend the constitution through citizen ballot initiatives. It was amended 69 times before it was completely rewritten in 1963 and 31 times since then, for all sorts of reasons: establishing the Natural Resources Trust Fund, legalizing stem cell research and regulating casinos, to name a few.

“25 x 25” is too risky and too rigid. Actually, it’s the safe thing to do. The cost of renewables like wind and solar is steadily decreasing; their fuel is eternally free; natural gas, oil and coal prices will only become more volatile; and the proposal’s cost cap guarantees no significant, renewables-related rate increases. And, as other states have shown, a 25 percent goal is entirely doable.

In Gov. Milliken’s era there were breakthroughs like the Michigan Environmental Protection Act and Wetlands Protection Act. Times have certainly changed since then. But that pro-economy conservation ethic that made Michigan a leader in the 1970s is still with us—really, it’s who we are here in the Great Lakes State. And a modernized renewable energy initiative is consistent with all of it.

I usually try not to predict what voters will do, but 25 x 25’s benefits are so clear and logical that I think Michiganders will back it. Clean, local, renewable energy that attracts investment and creates jobs? That’s plain, common sense.

Hans Voss is the Michigan Land Use Institute’s executive director. Reach him at [email protected].

*This article first appeared in the Sep. 2 edition of the Northern Express

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