Earlier this year, conservative political organizations announced that they would lead an effort to repeal state-level renewable energy targets. In Michigan, voters are seeing just how far opposition groups are willing to go to shut down renewables this election season.
In August, clean energy advocates in Michigan successfully put Proposal 3 on the ballot, an initiative that would increase the state’s renewable electricity target to 25 percent by 2025. Three months later, a front group representing Michigan’s two largest utilities has raised nearly $24 million to defeat the proposal, outspending supporters 2-1 on television, radio and direct mailer advertisements.
The heavy-spending group, called “Coalition for Affordable Renewable Energy,” — or CARE — is primarily supported by Consumers Energy and DTE Energy, two large utilities with high penetrations of coal. Each company has spent $11 million to campaign against new renewable energy targets. The group also received $100,000 from Enbridge, the energy company responsible for spilling over one million gallons of diluted tar sands crude in the Kalamazoo River in southwest Michigan.
The group has released multiple ads attempting to scare voters about higher energy bills, and claim that the targets will force a reliance on “outdated” technologies imported from California. Experts have called the ads “misleading.”
Michigan utilities are highly coal-dependent. That’s one of the reasons why Consumers Energy and DTE Energy are so opposed to the new targets and are spreading fear about the cost of renewable energy. In fact, a Michigan Public Service Commission report from earlier this year showed that wind, solar, and hydro resources are “cheaper than new coal-fired generation” in the state.
And according to a recent economic analysis promoted by supporters of Proposal 3, 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. In contrast, clean energy advocates say that increasing Michigan’s renewable electricity targets will cost the average residential ratepayer 50 cents per month.
In the case of Proposal 3, it’s mostly energy companies fighting new targets. But one conservative group, the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity, has chipped in $1.5 million to defeat the ballot initiative as well. The organization, which has spent more than $31 million on ads nation-wide this campaign season, is sending out direct mailers to voters telling them how to vote on several of Michigan’s ballot initiatives.
Even with support from small businesses and prominent politicians like Bill Clinton, groups supporting the measure have raised just over $12 million — less than half of the cash raised by opponents.
This blitz of spending has changed public opinion about Proposal 3 in a very short period of time. In September, a majority of Michigan voters said they would support increasing the state’s renewable energy targets to 25 percent. But today, as voters are inundated with ads opposing the initiative, only 35 percent say they support Proposal 3.
When Proposal 3 was accepted on the ballot in August, onlookers called it one of the most important fights for renewable energy in the country. But no one foresaw just how much money utilities would dump into the ongoing scare campaign.