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Opinion | Federal debt ceiling default risks Michigan’s clean energy future

Missing from the discussion of the reckless Republican brinkmanship on the federal debt ceiling are major economic issues at stake here in Michigan. Clean energy manufacturing – and the jobs that will build millions of electric vehicles and solar panels over the coming decades – is just getting started. But there’s a very real chance that by playing chicken with the debt ceiling, Republicans could blow up the projects we already have underway.

Stephanie Chang
Stephanie Chang is the Democratic state Senator representing Michigan’s 3rd District and a member of the Climate Power Michigan State Advisory Board.

Last year’s infrastructure bill and Inflation Reduction Act kickstarted a new era of investment in clean energy manufacturing. Over $20 billion of investments in Michigan are poised to ramp up electric vehicle supply chains and assembly, build out battery manufacturing and set up solar panel manufacturing facilities. Investments announced so far are expected to produce over 13,700 new jobs, adding to the 119,000 clean energy jobs already built into our local economy. It’s a great example of how Michigan can grow and build a healthier future for our people and our environment.

Electric vehicles are a fast-growing market. Annual sales have tripled since President Biden took office and new incentives ought to accelerate American manufacturing to meet the obvious demand for these vehicles. Someone, somewhere will build these cars and trucks – but Republican insistence on needlessly defaulting puts our chance to be the go-to people and place for electric vehicles in very real jeopardy.

Companies have identified Michigan as the right place to build out facilities to meet the demand for electrified transportation. New factories have been announced across the state. And manufacturers are expanding parts manufacturing for things like the steel cases that hold and protect vehicle batteries and solar powered vehicle charging stations. 

These facilities will mean new jobs, and the cars and trucks they make will help reduce emissions from transportation – but all these benefits could evaporate if investors stop trusting that the federal government is as good as its word.

Also in peril are new efforts that aim to drive down the cost and the emissions associated with making new vehicles. Last year, Ford teamed up with DTE Energy to announce that by 2025, its manufacturing in southeast Michigan will be powered by 100 percent solar electricity. To reach that milestone, DTE Energy plans to install 650 megawatts of new solar power.

Producing clean energy from the sun requires infrastructure – and that, too, Michigan can make. Ground has already broken on Hemlock Semiconductor’s project in Saginaw County to expand production capacity for the polysilicon used to make solar panels and microchips.

We are very familiar with the effects of climate change in Michigan. People in some neighborhoods still have mold in their basements from the massive flooding from 2021. Ice on the Great Lakes forms later and melts sooner.  Algae blooms that come with warmer lake waters have threatened some Michiganders’ drinking water and make some recreational areas unsafe for swimming. Unless we act, impacts like these will increasingly affect Michiganders over the coming years. Every month that passes without action, we add more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

Timing matters for the jobs we want to see here in Michigan. The world needs to build a huge number of electric vehicles in this decade. A debt ceiling debacle right now that pulls the plug or pauses these projects would have a domino effect. Miss this moment, and we may well spend the next century buying solar panels made somewhere else to power cars we didn’t build.

Clean energy manufacturing projects – electric car and battery plants, the power for solar auto manufacturing, and the silicon that goes into the cars and solar panels – can come together as a robust, sustainable supply chain network. We can avert some of the impacts of climate change. We can create good-paying union jobs and opportunities for Michiganders.

This kind of opportunity comes once in a generation. We can’t afford to let Republican blundering in Congress throw it away.

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