Michigan citizens may be hearing a great deal of power-plant technology, carbon emissions and renewable energy standards this fall if a ballot proposal to require a larger share of state electricity come from renewable sources makes the statewide ballot. Prior to that determination being made, Bridge Magazine asked representatives of a large Michigan utility and environmental group to consider the question:
"Where will Michigan get its energy in 2030?"
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By Hugh McDiarmid Jr./Michigan Environmental Council
A proposed ballot initiative would require Michigan utilities to generate 25 percent of our electricity from renewable sources by 2025.
Opponents’ arguments against the plan include this curious one: It’s too ambitious.
We have a renewable energy standard that requires 10 percent renewable electricity by 2015, the argument goes. We should let that law run its course before taking the next step.
What’s most disheartening about this argument is its implication that planning for our energy future more than 30 months ahead is too far-reaching.
The policies we adopt today will have a tremendous impact on our children, grandchildren and great-great grandchildren. Whether it’s a coal plant, a wind farm or nuclear plants, our descendants will reap the benefits -- or the consequences -- of our decisions.
So let’s ask: What willMichigan’s electricity generation look like when today’s newborns are receiving high school diplomas?
It’s impossible to predict what our energy mix will look like when those grads take the stage in 2030. But it is incumbent on us that we lay the groundwork for a smarter, more resilient mix of energy choices, based on what we know today.
Energy efficiency must be our first choice, as it is the most cost effective method of meeting energy needs. Efficiency reduces demand, cuts costs and displaces the need for new power plants.
What else do we know?
* We know that coal, which currently generates 60 percent ofMichigan’s electricity, is expensive and getting more so. The cost of coal delivered to Michigan has doubled since 2005. Michiganders spend $1.8 billion annually to import coal from other states.
* We know that Michiganders pay dearly for coal pollution. A study commissioned by the Michigan Environmental Council showed we pay $1.5 billion in health-care costs and damages each year due to pollution from just our state’s nine oldest coal plants.
* We know that a new generation of nuclear power plants -- even if we start today -- are decades from coming on line, incredibly expensive to build, and fraught with political and technical challenges.
* We know that natural gas is currently dirt cheap, and may become a bigger part of Michigan’s electric generation mix. While gas complements renewables well, an over-commitment will make us hostage to future price fluctuations.
* We know that renewable energy in Michigan is coming on line at a cost cheaper than even the most ardent proponents predicted when our 10 percent standard was adopted in 2008. The Michigan Public Service Commission reports that “the cost of energy generated by renewable sources continues to decline and is cheaper than new coal-fired generation.” As an illustration, Consumers Energy has decreased its residential renewable energy surcharge from $2.50 per month to 52 cents in less than five years.
* We know that Michigan’s renewable energy sector is growing. More than 240 Michigan companies are engaged in the wind and solar supply chains alone.
Where does this data lead us in planning for 2030?
It suggests, compellingly, that our cheapest, most stable and least polluting energy sources should be a much bigger part of our electricity generation mix.
The 25 percent by 2025 would do that -- following the lead of dozens of other states. There are other ways it could be done -- but our Legislature and governor have seemed uninterested. So voters will decide.
Smart parents are creating financial plans to see their newborns through 2030 graduation and beyond, investing with the best information currently available.
It is our challenge and our obligation to plan their energy future with the same foresight.