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Original article URL: http://bridgemi.com/2012/11/guest-column-no-time-to-wait-on-renewable-energy/
27 November 2012
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.
“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.”