Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 18, 2012

Forum: Clean energy vital for lakes

By Stanley "Skip" Pruss
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---- — On Nov. 6, voters will determine whether Michigan takes full advantage of a rare, golden opportunity to secure new investment, build new infrastructure, create jobs and enhance health and the environment for its citizens.

Proposal 3, aka "25 x 25," would increase Michigan's clean energy standard to require that 25 percent of our electricity come from renewable energy sources by 2025.

Investment in clean energy technology makes sense for Michigan for many reasons. Here are just a few:

n First, our coal plants are among the country's oldest and many will soon need to close. Proposal 3 would allow us to replace old coal gradually with the cheapest new source of electricity available — wind energy. The Michigan Public Service Commission determined that onshore wind turbines produce energy at about one half the cost of a new coal plant. And while the costs of fossil fuels are increasing and volatile, "fuel-less" renewable energy technologies have long-term, predictable, fixed costs that protect us against that volatility.

n Second, clean energy technology is a trillion-dollar market with investment that is skyrocketing. Since April 2012, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America announced $120 billion of new investment in clean energy. Last year marked the first time investment in renewables exceeded global investment in coal and nuclear plants combined.

n Third, manufacturing clean energy technology hits our sweet spot. No one can compete with our strengths in advanced manufacturing, engineering and materials science, or our manufacturing-related research and development capacity. Michigan recently led all states in clean energy technology patents, fueling future opportunities as Michigan companies commercialize clean energy intellectual property.

If we allow ourselves to fall behind, Michigan risks surrendering market opportunities to other states and countries. Twenty states already have renewable energy standards of 20 percent or more and four have standards ranging from 30 percent to 50 percent. Sixteen other states have either enhanced or accelerated their renewable energy standards because they clearly see the benefits of clean energy development.

The number of states that derive 10 percent or more of their electricity from renewable energy doubled in the last year alone.

Clean energy should be of special concern to the people of northwest Lower Michigan. Our reliance on old energy generation comes with costs. More than half the man-made mercury deposited in our Great Lakes comes from coal-fired plants; bacterial action transforms that mercury into the more-dangerous methyl-mercury — a potent, bioaccumulating neurotoxin.

Perhaps because we have lived with that threat for so long, we don't fully appreciate that the fish advisories covering all our lakes not only concern our health, they limit the full economic benefits we could enjoy from our recreational and commercial fisheries.

We can do better.

With our manufacturing strengths, our tremendous research universities, the training capacity of our community colleges, and our ready and able workforce, we can fully capture the enormous benefits that clean energy brings while protecting the world's most magnificent natural resource endowment — our Great Lakes.

Vote "yes" on Nov. 6.

About the author: Stanley "Skip" Pruss is the former director of the Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth and Michigan's former Chief Energy Officer. He is currently a principal at 5 Lakes Energy LLC, a clean energy technology consulting firm. He lives in Northport.

About the forum: The forum is a periodic column of opinion written by Record-Eagle readers in their areas of interest or expertise. Submissions of 500 words or less may be made by emailing letters@record-eagle.com. Please include biographical information and a photo.