Alternative Energy Policy in Michigan
While Michigan is one of fewer than 30 states with a self-imposed mandate for renewable energy generation, the state’s policy is among the least aggressive in that group.
Utilities are expected to soon meet the 2008 state law that requires them to derive 10 percent of their energy from alternative sources such as the sun or wind. Many of the state’s elected leaders agree it is time to discuss new goals for the future regardless of their political party affiliation.
In the race to represent residents of eight Northern Michigan counties in the state Senate’s 37th district, a pair of candidates with significantly different views on environmental regulation are among those encouraging debate.
“I think Michigan has made huge strides since the late ’60s and early ’70s,” said state Rep. Wayne Schmidt, a Republican from Traverse City who is seeking the area’s state Senate seat. “We need to continue to do that, but it needs to be in a balanced approach.”
Rather than offer a plan with a certain percentage attached to it, Schmidt said he favors one that combines conservation efforts, such as weather-proofing doors and windows and installing LED light bulbs in your home, with development of the alternative energy industry.
“Early on, I think we need to put incentives in places,” Schmidt said. “I thought the 10 percent renewable was an appropriate level. Now we have the technologies in place and we’re seeing what works, what doesn’t work. Now we’re going to go back and look at what we can do.”
Sault Ste. Marie resident Phil Bellfy, Schmidt’s Democratic opponent in the state Senate race, is pushing a more forceful approach.
The Michigan Energy Office and Michigan Public Service Commission released a report last year that found utilities could reach goals as high of 15 percent by 2020, 20 percent by 2025, 25 percent by 2030 and 30 percent by 2035.
Bellfy agrees with fellow Democrats that the legislature should mandate a level of renewable energy production and set a deadline to meet that goal.
“The state of Michigan could be at the forefront of this,” Bellfy said. “They could create jobs like crazy, not only in the manufacturing but the installation and maintenance of all these things.”
Locked in his own race, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has said he wants to increase Michigan’s renewable energy production but he hasn’t set specific goals. Democratic gubernatorial challenger Mark Schauer is circulating a 10-point jobs plan in which he calls for 30 percent of the state’s energy to be derived from renewable sources by 2035.
The debate is likely to begin in earnest at some point next year.
In July, a bipartisan group of state lawmakers introduced their “Energy Freedom” package of bills designed to make it easier and cheaper for individuals to generate their own energy through renewable sources. The bills lift a cap on the amount of energy a person can generate, establish a system for fair compensation to those who generate more electricity than they use, allow for small-scale community renewable energy gardens and look at ways to update and improve Michigan’s electricity grid.
Critics, though, say a much closer look is needed to develop a system that is equally friendly to the environment and consumers.