On Tuesday’s election ballot aren’t just candidates for office, but a host of state constitutional amendments that let voters take the state’s future into their own hands — that’s perhaps a welcome opportunity at a time when trust of politicians and power-brokers is low.
Proposal 3, Michigan’s Renewable Energy Mandate, in particular, would require that 25 percent of the state’s electricity come from renewable resources such as wind, solar, biomass and hydropower by 2025. The effort has been called “the most important clean-energy vote this year” (nationwide) by Grist magazine’s environmental luminary David Roberts. If passed, the Renewable Energy Mandate would build upon a 2008 Renewable Energy Standard (RES) requiring the state’s utilities to generate 10 percent of their power from renewable energy sources by 2015. The “10-by-15″ law enjoyed the support of both then Governor Jennifer Granholm (Democrat) and now Governor Rick Snyder (Republican).
Between 2008 and 2011, Roberts reported, the RES attracted more than $100 million in new investment to the state, and the influx of green energy had no discernible effect on energy prices. Two years ago, Michigan had nearly 80,000 green jobs, and proponents argue that this mandate could bring 40,000 more green jobs, and billions in new investments, to communities still reeling from the near collapse of the automobile industry. Plus, Roberts writes that energy costs bleed money out of Michigan. “Michigan is relatively limited in most energy resources and imports 97 percent of its petroleum needs, 82 percent of its natural gas and 100 percent of coal and nuclear fuel from other states and nations,” the state’s Public Service Commission wrote last year. “These imports account for about 72 cents of every dollar spent for energy by Michigan’s citizens and businesses.” But Michigan has enough local renewable energy to power itself three times over. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Michigan could power itself with onshore wind alone.
Supporters of the “25-by-25″ Renewable Energy Amendment include the group “Michigan Energy, Michigan Jobs”, the Sierra Club, the Michigan Nurses Association, the Sterling Corporation, the Michigan Environmental Council and the United Auto Workers. Opponents, who believe the initiative would tie the hands of energy companies, include the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the group “Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution” and Governor Rick Snyder (despite supporting the state’s initial RES).
The Traverse City-based Michigan Land Use Institute has also weighed in to support the amendment, claiming that “Prop 3 could boost community renewables projects”, renewable energy represents a threat to the monopolies enjoyed by energy companies, ambitious renewables initiatives have had little effect on energy prices in states including Illinois, Minnesota and Colorado, Prop 3 would help Michigan compete with international competitors in the fast growing renewables sector. MLUI Executive Director Hans Voss offered this ringing endorsement of the Renewable Energy Mandate. In fact, so did former Governor (and moderate Republican) Bill Milliken.
Another Traverse City nonprofit, Circle of Blue, published a series of articles this year that examine how the push for renewable energy is fairing in Great Lakes states, how the recent boom in the natural gas industry has affected renewables on a market and policy level, and how climate change might affect the Great Lakes in the future.
Check out these stories:
• No Clear Path for Energy Policy in Great Lakes States: Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania governments struggle with climate change, budgets, and changing markets.
• Great Lakes Ports and Shipping Companies Confounded by Climate Changes and Water Levels. Regional scientists are working on adaptation solutions and planning resilience.
• Clean Energy Picture Dramatically Changed For Midwest, As U.S. Fossil Energy Boom Gathers Steam With the price of natural gas falling, investments in water-sipping wind and solar energy are slipping.
• Fossil Fuel Boom Shakes Ohio, Spurring Torrent of Investment and Worry Over Water Ohio’s shale oil and gas fortunes point up.