Michigan voters will vote on a measure to more than double their state’s renewable energy standard (RES) this November, thanks to a grassroots ballot initiative launched in January by a coalition of public health, environmental, labor, and clean energy groups.
The coalition, Michigan Energy Michigan Jobs, submitted 530,000 signatures from citizens who supported boosting the state’s RES from 10 percent by 2015 to 25 percent by 2025 while limiting utilities to one percent maximum annual rate increases. Michigan law requires 322,609 valid signatures for proposals to appear on the ballot, meaning voters will decide the state’s clean energy future this November.
Advocates have presented the ballot measure as a way to match unemployed workers to green collar jobs in one of the states hardest hit by the recession. “Clean energy businesses here in Michigan are using our manufacturing skills to diversify the economy and put people back to work,” said Mark Fisk, campaign spokesman. “Increasing our renewable energy standard can strengthen this sector even further and move our economy further.”
Independent economists have estimated a 25 percent RES in Michigan will create $10 billion in new investment and more than 56,000 jobs – on top of the existing 20,500 jobs and $5 billion in economic activity already supported by the state’s clean energy industry. State analysts estimate the current RPS has spurred $100 million in economic activity and made new renewables cheaper than coal generation.
This clean energy transition is creating clear benefits to the state economy – most likely, the reason an overwhelming majority of Michigan small businesses support an increased RES. A recent poll showed 79 percent of small businesses backed the ballot measure as a driver of new economic growth, even if it means an increase in utility costs, and more than 120 business leaders have publicly endorsed the effort.
But it’s not just small businesses that back the measure. More than 140 Michigan academics and scientists have signed an open letter in support of increasing the RES for economic and environmental benefits. “By boosting our use of renewable energy, we can keep in state more of the approximately $1.4 billion we spend every year to import coal to fuel coal-fired power plants that pollute our environment and hurt our health,” said Sean Huberty, professor at Lansing Community College.
So, with such widespread support, the 25 by 25 RPS seems like a slam-dunk, right? Wrong.
The state’s two largest utilities, which would bear the financial brunt of building more renewables, and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce have rolled out a campaign to defeat the measure. The CARE for Michigan Coalition says an increased RPS will create $10 billion in higher utility bills. That seems highly unlikely — “real-world experience and numerous non-partisan research organizations [have shown] over and over again that state-level renewable energy targets have not substantially driven up electricity rates,” Stephen Lacey noted in December. “In fact, the data shows that the presence of a state-level renewable energy standard has a virtually zero statistically-significant impact on how much electric rates changed from 2000 to 2010.”
Stakes will be high for the future of clean energy in elections across the country this November, starting with the presidential race. But, what happens in states matters, and Michigan voters will have their chance to make a major statement to fossil fuel interests that a true sustainable economy starts and ends with clean energy.
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