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A Greener Michigan? Ballot Initiative Would Boost Renewable Energy Production

J. Mijin Cha

An interesting proposal will be on the ballot this fall in Michigan. The measure, put forth by Michigan Energy, Michigan Jobs, would increase the state’s renewable energy requirement to 25 percent by 2025, more than double what it is today. The ballot measure would place this requirement in the state’s constitution, which would make it less susceptible to being overturned and also allow citizen’s to dictate the state’s energy future. This past legislative session, a bill to repeal the state’s existing renewable portfolio standard (RPS) was introduced but did not gain much traction.

The increased RPS will have several economic benefits for Michigan. For one, coal makes up 60 percent of the state’s energy mix, even though the state has no coal reserves. Increasing the amount of energy coming from renewables produced in the state would produce cost savings not only from having to import less coal but also from the health benefits that would be gained from decreased coal emissions. Second, a recent study from Michigan State University found that the increased RPS would create at least 74,000 new jobs and potentially over 100,000 new jobs, good news for a state with over 8 percent unemployment. In addition, $10 billion of investment is expected to come into the state from the clean energy sector.

Renewable energy production targets are a smart way to provide steady, guaranteed demand, which in turns provides stable market conditions for investors. Despite attempts by right-wing groups, like ALEC, currently 30 states and the District of Columbia have an RPS or some kind of mandated renewable production target. Last year, 12 percent of all energy was generated from renewables, surpassing the amount produced from nuclear. Those gains are now at risk due to the inability of Congress to extend production tax credits for wind and solar, another way in which renewables suffer from legislative bias. As we’ve pointed out, as opposed to the renewable sector, incentives for the fossil fuel industry are written into the tax code and do not need to renewed annually. This results in $4 billion of subsidies still being given to the fossil fuel industry every year, even though it boasts record profits and clearly does not need any taxpayer support.

Meaningfully investing in renewable energy development can provide much-needed economic growth to former industrial states, like Michigan. Advocates are not letting legislative inaction stop their state’s potential -- a lesson every state should follow.