Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Saturday

October 27, 2012

Energy policy questions, debates

Consumers Energy President and CEO John Russell caused a stir last month when he marked the dedication of the utility's first wind farm near Ludington by declaring that renewable energy is "clean, reliable and affordable for Michigan."

Russell's comments added fuel to the debate over Proposal 3, a proposed constitutional amendment that would require Michigan's utilities to obtain 25 percent of the electricity they sell from renewable sources — which it identifies as wind, solar, biomass and hydropower — by 2025. The ballot initiative would limit utilities to rate increases of 1 percent annually to comply with the 25 percent renewable energy mandate.

Russell's comments were curious because Consumers Energy is spending $600 million to build wind farms, while also spending $2.9 million to fight Proposal 3, which would require more renewable energy.

Proposal 3 supporters called Russell's comments hypocritical.

Consumers Energy spokesman Jeff Holyfield said the Jackson-based utility supports renewable energy, but noted the Michigan Constitution directs the Legislature to handle energy policy. He said a 2008 law requiring Michigan to obtain 10 percent of its energy from renewables by 2015 should run its course before any changes are made.

"Michigan already has a renewable energy standard," Holyfield said. "We think that standard is reasonable and affordable." A recent state report said most utilities would meet the 2015 clean energy mandate.

The flap over Russell's comments highlighted fundamental disagreements over how much of Michigan's energy should come from renewable sources, how quickly the state should transition to cleaner sources of energy and who should make those decisions — voters directly or through the Legislature.

The 25 percent renewable energy standard contained in Proposal 3 would give Michigan one of the nation's most aggressive clean energy mandates. Eleven other states have renewable energy mandates of 25 percent or higher.

Tom Lyon, a professor of business economics and natural resources at the University of Michigan, said Proposal 3 is a reasonable and affordable way to increase the use of renewable energy.

"I think the state could ramp up to 25 percent renewable energy by 2025 "¦ and there would only be a modest cost increase," Lyon said.

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