Environment Picture

President's Column: Time to play offense - Lessons from March Madness?

In basketball a strong defense is essential. But if you constantly sit back on your heels and allow the other team to dictate the flow of the game, there’s a good chance you’ll lose. For too long, the environmental community has played defense, letting issues come to us instead of taking an offensive posture. We have too often been perceived as the “no” movement—always in opposition to the issue at hand. At least that is how we have let the other side define us.

In Michigan, we now have an issue to play offense with. The “25 by 25” ballot initiative will let voters decide whether to require that one-quarter of our electricity be from renewable sources by 2025.

We need to be proactive and take the game to those who would keep us locked into 19th century technologies and strategies. The ballot initiative builds on a 2008 law that MEC helped pass, requiring that 10 percent of utilities’ electricity come from renewables by 2015. Utilities and the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) report the state is on target to meet that goal, and it is going to be far less expensive than originally predicted.

The “antis” have framed renewable energy as prohibitively expensive, but that has not been true for some time. MPSC analyses continue to show renewable energy in Michigan is less expensive than power from a new coal plant—one-third cheaper and dropping!

Twenty-five-percent renewable electricity still leaves 75 percent for other energy sources, but it will give Michiganders a buffer against wild fluctuations in energy costs. For example, the cost of delivered coal in Michigan has doubled since 2005. Michiganders now send $1.8 billion to other states’ economies each year to import coal. We can keep that money here instead, because “fuel” for wind turbines and solar panels is forever free.

The public supports and wants more renewable energy as long as the cost is reasonable. The truth of the matter is that the cost of renewable energy is getting cheaper by the day. The MPSC’s report proves this point.

And it’s a job creator. An Environmental Law and Policy Center study shows there are already more than 240 Michigan companies invested in the wind and solar supply chain. We can expect more if the ballot issue passes.

Twenty-five percent is reasonable. Twenty other states, including Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, and Ohio, have 25 percent renewable energy goals. Iowa is already at 21 percent with no significant disruptions or rate hikes. The measure also will generate $10 billion of investment in Michigan, keeping our dollars here in our own state and creating tens of thousands of jobs and opportunities for Michigan businesses.

Unfortunately, we cannot count on our state legislature to lead the way. In an era where there are actually proposals to repeal the 10 percent law that’s working so well, we have little expectation that these politicians will move Michigan forward. That’s why a constitutional amendment is necessary, so future legislatures can’t roll back our progress.

There are powerful special interests aligning against the 25x25 proposal. Lobbyists for the coal industry want to keep the status quo that’s working so well for their clients. But it’s not working for Michiganders whipsawed by rate increases, or for the tens of thousands of asthmatic children inhaling coal plant pollution, or for Great Lakes anglers who must worry about power plant mercury in the fish they feed their families.

Additionally, there are tremendous costs to our state from coal power that are not included in rates. MEC’s 2011 report on the public health impacts of coal-fired power plants found that Michiganders are annually socked with $1.5 billion in health care costs and expenses due to the pollution from just nine coal plants. They also cause 180 premature deaths each year, and thousands of asthma attacks and hospital room admittances.

It’s unrealistic to think we’ll ever stop playing defense. There are a multitude of misguided ideas, officials who pay lip service to environmental protection, and for whom natural resources are only an afterthought. But this year, it’s time for our side to take the game to the opposition instead of waiting for them to take it to us. I’m ready to play offense, how about you?
RELATED TOPICS: clean energy, renewable energy
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