Michigan debate reopens on renewable energy standards

By Patrick Howard

Capital News Service

LANSING – Proponents of Michigan’s alternative energy optimization standards are at odds with a suggestion to eliminate current standards.

Rep. Ray Franz, R-Onekama, has proposed repealing state renewable energy standards. In this photo, however, he is enjoying some chili. Photo: house.mi.gov

The proposal by Rep. Ray Franz, R-Onekama, would repeal standards that require 10 percent of energy generated by utility companies to be renewable by 2015.

The standards, adopted in 2008, include guidelines to utility companies.

According to Jim Weeks, executive director of the Michigan Municipal Electric Association in Lansing, Franz’ bill could address those guidelines that concern small companies.

“There is a lot of administrative costs and burden placed on the staff of smaller utilities,” Weeks said. He said several companies don’t have the money or resources to hire “energy specialists” and administrative positions that would accommodate current standards.

Weeks noted that those concerns were addressed to the Michigan Public Service Commission and his association was working on amending sections of the standards.

For small utility companies such as the Marquette Board of Light and Power, everyone is on board with energy efficiency. However, the discussion needed to happen, said executive director Kirby Juntila.

“There are always going to be issues with small companies when the government steps in and mandates,” he said.

“No one is arguing the validity and principle of energy efficiency,” Juntila said. “I think there are technicalities involved that must be addressed – with administrative costs being as high as they are – to allow for more flexibility based on community wants and needs.”

Bill Cook, general manager of the Zeeland Board of Public Works, also expressed support for energy efficiency, but stressed problems associated with the standard.

He said his utility collects an energy optimization fee from customers, but without an extremely large customer base, it doesn’t have enough revenue to cover higher administrative costs.

“What we’d like to be able to do is put money back in the consumers’ pockets to incentivize investment in energy-efficient products,” Cook said.

Ryan Werder, political director for the Michigan Leauge of Conservation Voters in Ann Arbor, said he isn’t convinced these concerns are as widespread or as pressing as skeptics make them seem.

“The overwhelming response is that the state is on track and we can do this,” Werder said.

He said the utilities in favor of the energy standard far outnumber those opposed to it, and the Public Service Commission, Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration and utility companies Consumers Energy and DTE Energy have all noted its success.

“While Franz wants to repeal the standard and bottom it out at zero, groups are working to increase the standard to 25 percent by 2025,” Werder said.

Werder said the Michigan Energy, Michigan Jobs coalition in East Lansing is collecting signatures to make the increased standard an initiative to be voted on the November ballot.

Hugh McDiarmid Jr. of the Michigan Environmental Council also noted the current standards’ success and said it would be a “big step backwards” to repeal such a highly lauded program.

He said the timing of Franz’ bill is interesting, noting a Public Service Commission report released in February highlighting the program’s success. “They ultimately discovered it saves rate payers’ money,” McDiarmid said.

According to the report, the renewable energy standard created more than $100 million in clean energy investments from 2008 to 2011. The report also said renewable energy costs significantly less than coal, and that Michigan is on track to meeting the 10 percent requirement by 2015.

McDiarmid said there are ways to “adjust and fine tune the program”, but repealing it is shortsighted and ridiculous.

However, Weeks said something must be done.

“If you have a million customers, you’re probably going to have enough of a base to make things work,” he said. “Our continued discussions with the commission will hopefully go a long way toward addressing these concerns.”

Co-sponsors of the bill include Reps. Jon Bumstead, R-Newaygo; Ken Yonker, R-Caledonia; Paul Muxlow, R-Brown City; and Ken Goike, R-Ray Township.

  • Helen

    Yes, the wind is free and the sun is free; however, modern life goes on whether the wind blows or the sun shines. During recent heat waves wind power barely showed up in the generating statistics.
    -
    Although the fuel cost approaches zero, the capital costs of wind and solar power are very large. I am not familiar with the mechanical reliability statistics for individual wind turbines and groups of wind turbines. There are also the little scattered pile of corpses of dead birds and dead bats that result from wind power. We don’t need to be burning BIOMASS either.
    -
    Natural gas is on the surface cleaner but in the unburned state is a much more potent greenhouse gas. Every leakage of methane in the entire extraction and delivery chain represents a grwoing global warming disaster.

  • Mike

    The energy companies are evil corporations more interested in the bottom line than in the environment. RIGHT?

    The report said: (Quoted from article) “renewable energy costs significantly less than coal.”

    So the energy companies, wanting to max out profits, would want to buy and distribute renewable energy.

    Ergo: Get the government out of the mix and let the marketplace dictate the policy. The rich will get richer and the people will get more renewable energy.

    Or maybe the report was flawed. Or maybe the issue is just part the progressive agenda to regulate as much of everything as possible.

  • Mary

    The old adage, “Spend Money to Make Money” comes into play.
    Of course, there are upfront costs to go Green but there are
    also short and long term benefits. Eventually, the utility
    companies are going to find a way to charge consumers more to
    cover their own losses.
    Mary J.

    http://solaruniversecalifornia.com

  • Paul

    Harold has hit the nail on the head, Repugs are ignorant and regressive. But why? When you think about it, maybe the reason why Repugs have such animosity towards our public education system is because they are products of it. They must feel so let down not being able to think forward into the future, but, only backwards. However, most progressives went thru the same school system and yet are capable of looking to the future. Where does the fault lie? Perhaps with the individuals, not the system.

  • Jim

    Coal is out. Climate change is real. Anyone who plays the fear and emotional card opposing climate change or renwable enegy is not responsible. Natural gas is only a transition fuel, and will be meaningless unless we achieve renewable energy goals, not less than, and more if we can make it more available to the “little guy” and smaller communities, 25% by 2025. If not, then the devastation, economically and quality of life, will be shocking. The best way to respond is to press forward with renewable energy, in appropriate and friendly and economic positive forms, and deal with the legislative problem that opposes renewable energy in this year’s election.

  • Becky

    We heard at a Sierra Club meeting last night with Nobel-Prize winner Henry Pollack (who spoke about his new book A World Without Ice) that Michigan spends 1.8 billion on coal each year. Dr. Pollack said that money is actually Michigan’s largest export, spent on fossil fuels. And the “coal” is the broken-up landscapes of Appalachia and parts of the west, former landscapes, that is. This system is just ridiculous, especially since the mountains of Appalachia turn into incandescent light and entertainment systems basically left on 24/7, since that’s what a remote-controlled device does with electricity. We’re not even careful with our personal remnants of these blasted and trucked-away American landscapes (someone else’s back yards).

    I think 25% by 2025 is too modest a goal. We should be long past coal by then, unless we just like Victorian things. Maybe whale oil? Maybe coal furnaces in our houses again? Who would want it if you had to have it delivered, you had to shovel it yourself, see the soot in your neighborhood, and deal with the ash? We don’t “pay” for it, anyway. We wouldn’t want it if our electric bills had the true cost of our own use. You can check out what it would cost you if you really had to pay 100% of the cost here: http://motherjones.com/blue-marble/2012/04/calculator-true-cost-using-coal-electricity-bill

    Becky
    sierraclubgreatlakes.blogspot.com

  • Harold

    What a surprise! Another Republican attempt to take this state (and country) backwards and downward. Why have Republicans become so unabashedly ignorant and regressive? Today’s Republicans have devolved immensely since the days of my favorite Governor–Republican Bill Milliken.