Traverse City Record-Eagle

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July 3, 2012

Forum: Clean energy makes sense

An initiative that may be on the November ballot would increase renewable electricity generation in Michigan to 25 percent by 2025.

This would bring more than 56,000 jobs to our state and $10 billion in new investments.

The opposition to this ballot initiative argues that it would increase costs to ratepayers ("Energy ballot issue heating up" Record-Eagle, June 25). This is simply not true.

Renewable energy contracts in Michigan now provide electricity at a cost significantly less than a new coal plant. That's not including the $1.5 billion Michigan residents pay annually in health care costs directly related to our coal-dominated electricity supply, including treatment for asthma and other serious health problems.

Those costs are hidden in health care premiums and emergency room bills and are never accounted for in utility bills. More clean, renewable energy would bring down these costs.

The 25 percent target is predicted to increase utility bills only $1.25, and maybe less. Since 2008, when Michigan passed its current renewable standard (10 percent by 2015), the cost of renewable energy has dropped like a rock. Consumers Energy has lowered its residential renewable energy surcharge from $2.50 to 52 cents in less than five years. The coal portion of utility bills, however, continues to rise.

As additional proof of the economic benefits to our state, in February the Michigan Public Service Commission reported that the 2008 renewable standard already has sparked more than $100 million in new economic activity in Michigan.

More than 20 other states already have similar targets in place which have not caused significant rate increases. In some states it has helped to keep rates low. For example, Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota all have passed standards of 25 percent by 2025, and wind energy already makes up more than 20 percent of Iowa's electric generation.

Passing this initiative will keep us from falling behind other states in the expanding renewables industry.

It is also important to note that back when the 2008 law was passed, the electric utilities argued fervently that the proposed renewables standard would make ratepayer bills skyrocket. That was not true then, and it is still not true.

These same big utilities recently launched their own group to oppose this year's ballot initiative, and are using the same argument that failed four years ago: that it will cost too much.

However, the facts and the years of experience our state and neighbors have with such policies clearly demonstrate that the opposite is true. The utilities' argument is hardly credible anymore.

In fact, supporting the 25 by 2025 ballot initiative is a bi-partisan group of businesses, health care professionals and organizations that see the enormous benefits of increasing the amount of renewable energy Michigan generates.

Last week, more than 120 Michigan business leaders announced their support for the ballot proposal.

The simple truth is that getting 25 percent of our electricity from clean and renewable sources is good for our economy, good for our state and a good deal for ratepayers.

About the author: Kate Madigan is the Northern Michigan representative for the Michigan Environmental Council. She formerly worked alongside the state Legislature in Lansing to advocate for public health and environmental protections, including work with electric utilities to develop regulations for reducing mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. She is now working on the Grand Vision Energy Network and other regional energy efforts.

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 e-mailing letters@record-eagle.com. Please include biographical information and a photo.

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