Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Friday

January 25, 2013

Officials to study future energy needs

TRAVERSE CITY — Gov. Rick Snyder's administration is kicking off a year-long study to help set future energy policies for Michigan, including whether to require expanded use of wind, the sun and other renewable electricity sources.

The Republican governor promised to dig into the issue last fall after voters soundly rejected a ballot proposal that would have ordered the state's utilities to generate 25 percent of their power from alternatives to coal, natural gas and other fossil fuels by 2025. Existing law sets a 10 percent minimum that must be met by 2015.

The study is designed to provide Snyder and the state Legislature with information they'll need to devise a new energy strategy as the deadline arrives, said John Quackenbush, chairman of the Michigan Public Service Commission. Quackenbush is leading the project with Steven Bakkal, director of the Michigan Energy Office.

It will begin with seven public meetings around the state, starting Feb. 14 in Lansing and ending April 22 in Traverse City. The meetings will give people a chance to provide information for reports that will be submitted to the governor and lawmakers.

"What we're interested in at this point is gathering information — studies and data that will guide policymakers and help them make good decisions," Quackenbush said this week.

A law enacted in 2008 established the 10 percent renewable energy standard. It also required electric utilities to reduce power usage by 5.5 percent and gas providers to achieve a 3.85 percent cut by 2015.

Another provision guarantees that one-tenth of the electricity sold in Michigan will come from suppliers other than regulated utilities. The study will deal with all those topics, Bakkal said.

Environmental groups, contending the renewable standard was insufficient, gathered enough petition signatures to force the statewide vote on a 25 percent minimum, contending it would help Michigan keep pace with competing states in clean energy development and create jobs. Utilities said it would hit customers with higher electric bills and make supplies less reliable.

When releasing a special message on energy and the environment last November, Snyder made no commitment to strengthening the standard but told The Associated Press he favored increased use of renewables. "The real question is at what pace should that happen," he said.

Bakkal said the study would examine the best available data showing how well Michigan energy providers have lived up to existing requirements. Another question to be explored is the relative costs of generating and transmitting renewable energy as opposed to energy from conventional sources, he said.

"The governor is interested in benchmarking — how we compare to other states," Bakkal said.

The Michigan Environmental Council, which campaigned for the unsuccessful ballot initiative, will attend the public meetings and submit reports it commissioned that deal with costs and pollution, spokesman Hugh McDiarmid Jr. said.

"We believe that if the governor is looking at this from a data-driven perspective ... we'll come up with a better energy plan than we have now," McDiarmid said Thursday.

Consumers Energy also will provide information, spokesman Jeff Holyfield said.

"Michigan should have an informed discussion about what's the best path forward after 2015," he said. "We'll be participating and talking about the benefits that the 2008 energy law has brought to Michigan families and businesses."

AP-WF-01-25-13 0001GMT

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