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Guest column: No time to wait on renewable energy

By Jim Dulzo/Michigan Land Use Institute

The ruckus over renewables isn’t over: Proposal 3’s advocates sound even more determined to boost renewables goals beyond their current “10 percent by 2015” target and make Michigan a jobs-rich, global, renewables manufacturing leader.

“This is not the end, it is the beginning,” said Diane Byrum, of Byrum Fisk, the communications firm which led the Prop 3 campaign.

Utilities, however, don’t want to talk about it for three years.

Given DTE and Consumers Energy’s ferocious air war against the 25 x 25 proposal, that’s expected. What’s surprising is advocates’ optimism, based on a new poll finding powerful, bipartisan support for renewables — but not constitutional amendments.

Jim Dulzo is senior energy policy specialist at the Michigan Land Use Institute, which works with the statewide Clean Energy Now coalition.

“We’ve had a loud public debate,” said Ryan Werder, Michigan League of Conservation Voters political director, “and learned people don’t like amending the constitution for any issue but that, even after we were outspent by between three and five to one, Michiganders still want renewables. That’s exciting. We can’t let it sit —c ertainly not until 2015.”

However, Jeff Holyfield of Consumers, who acknowledged his company would have fewer renewables without the current mandate, said nothing should change before utilities hit their targets — and analyze the results.

DTE’s Alejandro Bodipo-Memba agreed: “It makes sense to talk once we reach our 10 percent goal.”

Neither spokesman could say their company has a vision for a renewable-energy future. Both said their firms take things a few years at a time; as technology, markets and costs change, they adjust.

That’s not surprising; utilities are protected monopolies, and innovation is not their thing. Stockholder happiness, reliability and low rates are.

Yet their renewables are going great guns — on schedule, profitable and costing far less than predicted. Consumers slashed renewables surcharges from $2.50 to 52 cents because wind power is so cheap; DTE’s surplus from its $3 surcharge will likely be refunded.

Meanwhile, established 25 x 25 leaders Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota and Iowa see little effect on electric rates. Given volatile fuel costs (the price of coal has doubled in recent years, driving up Michigan’s rates, the Midwest’s highest), they see wind and even solar as good price hedges.

These are realities, not theories, and should be helping Michigan. It’s one reason Werder said stalling on renewables past 2015 is wrong.

“If we want to introduce certainty into the renewables market, we have to avoid that 2015 energy cliff,” he said. “Waiting to get to a point of complete uncertainty, and then analyzing renewables, is a terrible way to do business. We need to tell renewables companies if there’s a market here. Right now, the answer is ‘no.’”

Prop 3 allies are thinking about stockholders, lawmakers, public education about coal’s soaring — and renewables’ plummeting — cost, and a public planning process for utilities replacing their oldest, dirtiest coal plants.

“We’ve worked to get past coal for five years with many organizations,” Sierra Club Michigan Chapter’s Anne Woiwode said, “Our next steps will mesh with that.”

Businesses should be at the table, too, said former state representative Dan Scripps, president of the Michigan Energy Innovation Business Council, whose members split on Prop 3. He’s concerned about pausing renewables development and hopes for a discussion asking, “Approaching our goal, how do we go forward?”

On Wednesday, Gov. Rick Snyder finally weighs in with his Special Message on Energy. Energy adviser Valerie Brader offered a hint from a recent gubernatorial interview.

“He said 10 percent renewables is not the right place to stop,” she said, “and that we are grateful to now be able to forge a sensible policy for Michigan and not be locked into constitutional language.”

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan.

7 comments from Bridge readers.Add mine!

  1. William C. Plumpe

    I think that increasing the use of renewable energy sources is a very good idea but as always we must be careful about how we initiate and manage the increase. I too do not like the idea of changing the constitution regardless of how noble the intent. I stress that we are a representative democracy which means work through your State Legislature not amendments to the constitution. Besides there already is a 10% requirement in place—let’s work to make sure that gets done properly and then increase the percentage of energy generated by alternative means—after we’ve had a chance to work out the bugs. Although alternative means of energy production have been around for a long time they only recently have been considered for large scale energy supply roles. Alternative energy sources need some time to be proven as reliable large scale providers. Let’s not rush into things and do something that we later regret and can’t properly fine tune because we’ve locked in the rules. Enough said.

  2. sam melvin

    Lets see HOW michigan makes progress ……..troy just started a new transportation Station. MMmmm ep. John Dingell iussed $ 200 Million in michigan : HB 6484 (67 votes yes,31 no) THE WILL provdie the matching Funds $ 150 Million ..for the detroit-Ypsilanti-Aa commuter rail.. MiTRAIN Flieers advertised EVENT TRAINS TO RUN IN FALL 2010 …) Ride to the thanksgiving Parde …mmmmm
    Richard van der vEEN has been building TURBINE all over michigan and has contarct with consum and DTE..So why is THE NEWS/bridge tell us about OLD NEWS …
    Nov. 2012 convention in N/s/carolinas INTERNATIONAL ENERGY CONFERANCE to build in the UNITED STATES >SO W HERE ARE OUR REPRESENTATIVE? just back in class/Schools? same old /same old ..

  3. stondeez

    Mr Dulzo failed to mention that the “new poll” was payed for by MIENERGYMIJOBS

    Heres the proof from the Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research website who did the poll.

    Michigan voters support renewable energy

    Nov 15, 2012 Posted by GQRR Category GQRR

    Nearly three-fourths of Michigan voters want to see expansion of the state’s use of renewable energy, according to a new poll released Thursday and conducted for Michigan Energy Michigan Jobs.

    Heres the link

    As we say out here in the country “He who pays the fiddler, gets to pick the tune.”

  4. Neil

    The author did not mention who drove up the cost of coal? The Obama administration and the Democrats did it through EPA regulations to shut down coal. Utilities and consumers are being forced into alternative energy.

    If alternative energy is to replace 10 % of coal fired plants, where is the energy to come from when the wind does not blow or the sun is not shining? Is alternative energy stored somewhere for these contingencies and where? The alternative for consumers is rotating brownouts or blackouts. How about when the temperature is 100 F or below freezing? Every consumer is going to have to install natural gas fired generators for their homes and businesses for power backup.

  5. William

    An industrial state such as MI requires reliable power supplies; does the renewable effort take into account the need for such reliability and the need to have it paid for by those who support it.
    The constitutional proposal did neither. I would support and pay for a specific utility charge which addresses these both.

  6. Jim Hendricks

    Renewables wil happen when they are economic. Subsidizing solar and wind is madness – the funding for this transfer is coming from consumers and I for one want nothing to do with it. Nuclear power could play a bigger role, but of course, that is not the “right” kind of renewal. Or hydroelectric – that’s renewable – oh sorry, not the right kind of renewable – tear down those dams! The Club of Rome is alive and kicking and will not rest until we destroy the economy.

  7. Dave Maxwell

    What everyone ignores is that when the wind blows or the sun shines, the traditional sources keep on making electricity that they must “shed” because they have no market for it. If this is not true, will someone please clarify how this works?

    In any event, let’s see what our cost of energy is at 10% renewable, and not forget that the utilities said that electric rates would go even higher if we want to 25%. Let’s check the facts before we plunge ahead, and not forget that Michigan is an industrial state, and the cost of energy is a game-changer for many companies.

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