Truth Squad: Anti-Prop 3 ad earns technical fouls on cost claim, wind turbine longevity

MICHIGAN TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: "Place" – TV ad, "$12 Billion" – mailer

Who: CARE, anti-Proposal 3 group

What: TV ad and mailer

Truth Squad call: Technical fouls

Questionable statements: "Make no mistake -- Michigan families will pay the $12 billion price tag for this energy experiment." (TV ad)

"Proposal 3 will cost Michigan $12 billion for a special interest energy mandate." (mailer)

The TV ad offers citations from Michigan Capitol Confidential on July 11, 2011, and The News Herald on Sept. 3, 2012.

The News Herald story reports on the Michigan Electric Cooperative Association’s decision to join the opposition campaign to Proposal 3. It quotes MECA’s head on the $12 billion cost claim.

As noted in a previous Truth Squad analysis, the original source for the $12 billion figure is from an estimate from Consumers Energy, which has donated extensively to the Prop 3 opposition campaign.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is a product of the Mackinac Center, a free-market group that has been critical of government energy mandates. The story quotes a staffer of the Cato Institute, a libertarian group based in Washington, D.C. This person said alternative energy mandates and tax breaks for alternative energy would cost consumers more money. The article was from 2011, so it could not address the particulars of Proposal 3.


Questionable statement: "It would force Michigan families to gamble placing a $12 billion bet on technology that will likely be outdated in just a few years. – Norfolk Daily News, 5/30/07" (TV ad)

The Daily News of Norfolk, Neb., wrote a story about two wind turbines that had been installed "nine years ago" (or 1998) as a test by the U.S. Department of Energy.

"But two wind turbines here have neared the end of their useful life in only nine years - less than half of their anticipated lifespan," the story stated. "It's because wind technology is advancing by leaps and bounds and leaving early wind farms, such as this one, in the dust."

A 2011 federal government report stated that the expected operational lifespan of a wind turbine is 20 to 30 years and that with refurbishment, another 15 years could be added, for a total of 35 to 45 years. The report compared that span to 30- to 50-year lifespan of a coal-fired power plant.

Questionable statement: "Renewable energy is 67% more expensive than conventional energy and would cost thousands of dollars for Michigan families and small businesses." (Citation is for, 9/10/12 and Michigan Capitol Confidential, 7/11/11)

CARE paid for a study from Public Sector Consultants in Lansing on Proposal 3. This review does say that renewable power is "at least" 67 percent more expensive than power from conventional sources. (Editor’s note: The author of the report, Ken Sikkema, also serves as a paid policy adviser to the Center for Michigan, which produces the Michigan Truth Squad. Sikkema has no part in the Michigan Truth Squad and he has not been part of the internal research and writing team for this Truth Squad analysis or any other.)

The Capitol Confidential story did not go into the 67 percent figure, nor provide any data beyond comments from a Cato Institute official (see above) that alternative energy would cost consumers more.

Questionable statement: "Michigan’s beautiful landscape will be dramatically changed with as many as 3,100 wind turbines spread all across the state and perhaps even in the Great Lakes." (Citation is for, 9/10/12 and Michigan Capitol Confidential, 7/11/11)

The Capitol Confidential story reports on a specific wind farm project in Mason County that uses 9,300 acres for 56 turbines. It did not reference the 3,100 figure.

The PSC report states, "Based on current technology, this proposal would require an additional 3,100 wind turbines … and take approximately 500,000 acres of land — approximately 6 times the area of the City of Detroit, or 17 times the City of Grand Rapids. Stated differently, this number of turbines would equate to each county in the state having 40 large turbines (assuming equal distribution)."

However, the report adds, "It is fairly certain, however, that the wind turbines will not be evenly distributed in every county."

The federal report mentioned above notes that, "Areas with average annual wind speeds at or greater than 23.4 kilometers per hour (14.5 miles per hour) at an 80-m height above the ground (the height of a typical wind turbine rotor) are generally considered to have a suitable wind resource for possible development."

This map at the state of Michigan website shows wind speed as the 80-meter height.

Overall impression: The ad relies heavily on the report from Public Sector Consultants that CARE itself commissioned.

That report is not as unequivocal as the ad might make it appear. For example, it puts a range on overall costs between $10 billion and $12 billion. And the report and its author indicate that there are too many unknown variables to definitively assess the cost of renewable power 10 years from now or the amount of increase to a customer’s electric bill.

Foul or no foul: Technical fouls on several points. First, the ad repeats the thousands of dollars in increased utility bill costs, but does not provide data to support the claim. Second, the reference to the 2007 Nebraska story about two experimental wind turbines does not reflect the lifespans of the current generation of turbines. Third, it states as a certainty that Proposal 3 would cost $12 billion. That is possible, of course, but the figure is an estimate from a utility opposing the measure – not a certainty.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Big D
Sun, 09/30/2012 - 6:58am
Picky. You fail to mention that it is impossible to include all the details and qualifiers in a short ad. Perhaps the short ad should reference your piece...then the curious could see that the substance of the ad was true.