Climate

Three State Legislators Want To Kill Michigan’s Popular Clean Energy Law

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Solar panels in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Three state legislators in Michigan have put together a bill to kill the state’s renewable energy mandate, while their colleagues have already moved on to planning the second phase after it meets its current goal.

Michigan State Rep. Tom McMillin (R), introduced a bill on October 1 that would repeal the state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS), Midwest Energy News reported on Tuesday. Passed in 2008, the RPS stipulates that 10 percent of Michigan’s energy come from renewable sources by 2015.

A working group headed up by the office of state Sen. Mike Nofs (R), who chairs the Energy and Technology Committee in the Michigan State Senate, is currently playing with various ideas for how to reform the RPS, including upping the target.

State Reps. Ken Goike (R) and Ray Franz (R), have joined on as co-sponsors for McMillin’s bill in the Michigan State House of Representatives. The trio made a previous attempt to scuttle the RPS back in 2012, but the bill never made it out of committee.

Nofs told Midwest Energy News that he hadn’t yet spoken with McMillin or the bill’s other two co-sponsors about repealing the RPS, nor has he read their bill. He did say he and other members of the working group were “surprised” by the proposed legislation. “I understand there are a lot of concerns with it automatically,” Nofs said.

According to James Clift, the policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council, the idea of repealing the RPS sits outside both mainstream public opinion in the state, as well as mainstream opinion amongst the state’s Republicans. “I don’t think there’s support within their caucus to move this legislation,” he told Midwest Energy News. “It’s the minority point of view. A majority of members in the Legislature see the benefits of renewable energy.”

Consumers Energy, a major utility in Michigan which has participated in Nofs’ working group also expressed opposition to McMillin’s proposal. “The legislation … would create great uncertainty about the future of renewable energy in the state,” said the utility’s spokesman, Brian Wheeler, in an email. Investors both in America and around the world have become increasingly vocal in recent years about the need for government policy to create reliable long-term paths if investment in renewable generation is to reach the scale necessary to ward off climate change.

A group called the Michigan Conservative Energy Forum (MCEF) actually formed in the state around the end of 2013 to push for more renewable energy based on conservative priorities. Larry Ward, the group’s executive director, points to issues like coal pollution’s detrimental effects on health and environmental conservation, as well as the undress of millions that leave the Michigan economy each year to pay for coal supplies from other states.

Polling the group did found strong support of 53 percent for renewable energy over and above coal throughout Michigan’s populace, and across its party lines. And polling by other groups in February of this year found 69 percent support for the RPS specifically.

Nofs told Midwestern Energy News he hopes to release draft legislation for updating Michigan’s energy efficiency mandates in the next few weeks, and the best case scenario would be passing final laws just after the November election. The schedule for reform of the RPS specifically is less certain. Nofs has said the reform my change the RPS to a “goal” rather than a target or standard, and that he’d like natural gas to qualify under the revamped law — though leakage throughout the industry’s infrastructure likely renders it no better than coal from a climate change perspective.

But Ward and Greg Moore, the legislative director for Nofs’ office, both emphasized the reluctance of many Michigan Republicans to get into the subject of climate change, and focused on the potential health benefits and conservation benefits of the RPS instead. “It throws people off and gets us off on a subject that’s far too political, unfortunately,” Moore told ThinkProgress in an interview.

A 2013 data-gathering campaign kicked off by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder delivered a report near the end of that year that Michigan’s RPS could be expanded to a 30 percent target in 2035 without economic consequence, relying on resources within the state. Moore didn’t rule such a target out, but he was ambivalent. “I know the [Snyder] Administration has had some misgivings about that being put out that way, that the costs of actually doing so were not factored in and were not clearly illustrated,” Moore said. “So I’m not sure they’re still holding it at 30 percent.”

“We’re less concerned about a number than we are about the goal being clean energy, however it’s produced, whether it’s through wind and solar, whether it’s through gas and nuclear or clean coal.”