Michigan is playing host to a major battle over renewable energy this fall. On one side are clean energy proponents promoting a ballot initiative that would increase the state’s renewable electricity targets to 25 percent by 2025. On the other side are large coal-dependent utilities fighting to prevent any new increases.
In the middle are Michigan voters who are getting bombarded with millions of dollars in advertisements from utilities opposed to new renewable energy standards. Even so, a majority of Michiganders say they support new targets that would diversify the state’s electricity mix — stimulating billions of dollars in renewable energy investments while only adding about 50 cents per month to the average residential utility bill.
Backers of Proposal 3 might not have the spending power of the state’s largest utilities. But they now have a major heavy hitter on their side: Bill Clinton.
Former President Clinton — a man well-versed in the benefits of clean energy — has officially put thrown his support behind the 25 percent renewable electricity target.
“Proposal 3 is Michigan’s best opportunity this year to jumpstart the state’s economy by creating 94,000 jobs and increasing the use of renewable energy,” Clinton said in a statement. “Proposal 3 invests in Michigan’s future so that it won’t get left behind by the 30 other states that are already creating new clean energy jobs and lowering consumers’ electricity costs. That’s why I’m so proud to endorse Proposal 3.”
The high-profile endorsement from Clinton comes as a utility front group spends millions of dollars on advertisements to kill the proposal. According to clean energy proponents, the organization fighting Proposal 3 is set to spend $7 million on television and radio ads in the weeks before the November elections.
Michigan gets 59 percent of its electricity from coal. That’s one of the major reasons why Consumers Energy and DTE Energy, the state’s largest utilities, are opposed to new targets. According to a recent economic analysis, the cost of delivering coal to power plants in the state has jumped by 71 percent since 2006. Consumers Energy has projected fuel cost increases to total around $530 million over the next four years — resulting in a 3 percent rate increase each year.
That is also the reason why contracts for renewable electricity are coming in lower than the cost of new coal. In February, the Michigan Public Service Commission issued a progress report of the state’s current renewable electricity standard requiring 10 percent penetration by 2015, finding that the cost of wind, solar, and hydro “is cheaper than a new coal-fired generation” in the state.
In fact, on multiple occasions over the last four years, Consumers Energy reported that the cost of meeting Michigan’s current renewable electricity targets has been far lower than expected. In May, the company reduced its renewable electricity surcharge by 13 cents. It also reduced the surcharge in May of 2011, citing the lower-than-expected cost of meeting targets.