Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Study says Michigan can afford more renewable energy

 Moderate adjustment of  energy policies can help Michigan triple its portion of production from renewable sources by 2030 without sizeable rate hikes, according to a new report.

The Union of Concerned Scientists  said that continuing to ramp up renewables at the same growth rate as the current renewable energy standard —1.5 percent per year — could boost its in-state renewable energy portion to 32.5
percent of total energy production in 2030.

The state is expected to have no trouble meeting a 10 percent renewable energy standard by 2015. That’s the goal that the state legislature established in 2008. The RES expires at the end of next year so the legislature is expected to set new goals. The Senate Energy and Techology Committee held hearings this week and last and has another one scheduled for next Tuesday.

“The Michigan Municipal League advocates every day for policies that will help our communities provide better basic services and create vibrant communities, and that’s why we’re encouraged by the findings of this report,” said Samantha Harkins, the league's director of state affairs. “We’re looking forward to working with the legislature this year to increase our renewable energy standard.”

Increasing renewables would come at virtually no increase in electricity costs, with consumers projected to pay just 0.3 percent more over the next 15 years, the UCS report said.

Part of the reason is that the costs for renewable sources like wind and solar have declined.

“Michigan’s overreliance on coal has significant negative health impacts on our children, seniors and families,” said Rory Neuner of MI Air MI Health. “This report by the Union of Concerned Scientists should be a call to action for the Michigan Legislature. Transitioning from coal to clean energy will reduce asthma and lung disease complications and ultimately save lives.”

“Further diversifying Michigan’s electricity mix with renewable energy fits squarely with Governor (Rick) Snyder’s goals of an affordable, reliable and adaptable electricity system that also protects the environment,” said Sam Gomberg, a UCS energy analyst and the report’s author. “And we can do it while driving investments in Michigan communities.”

Advocates of a higher standard say would inject more than $9.5 billion in new capital investment into Michigan’s economy between 2016-2030. Such investment would also generate millions of dollars in new tax revenue, expenditures on facility operation and maintenance, and wind power land lease payments for local communities, they say.

The onus for meeting 2015 RES goal was placed on the incumbent utilities, which agreed to the renewable requirement in exchange for moving the state from a deregulated energy system to a hybrid system.

The 2008 legislation — Public Act 295 — established a 10-percent energy competition restriction because utility  leaders said they needed a stable customer base to meet the renewable goals and incur an expense they say has reached $4 billion to invest in wind and solar.

Now, electric deregulation advocates are saying rates would be lower in a deregulated environment. Historically, Michigan’s electric rates are usually at the national average or above it, according to the Michigan Public Service Commission.

These are among the issues to be settled by the legislature. A compromise with broad support among Democrats and Republicans was the result in 2008.  Hopefully something that benefits all ratepayers will emerge this time as well.

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