June 27, 2012

Labor, business and government officials oppose renewable energy ballot

A combination of labor, business and government officials will launch their opposition to a proposed 25 percent statewide renewable energy mandate in Detroit on Monday.

The Clean Affordable Renewable Energy for Michigan Coalition is urging voters not to support the signature drive - called 25x25 -- arguing it's too costly for consumers. Proponents say boosting Michigan's current renewable energy use - currently less than 4 percent --- will generate green energy jobs and bolster the environment.

Under the ballot proposal, the state's energy providers would have to produce or purchase 25 percent of their electricity from renewable sources, such as biomass, hydro, solar and wind power, by 2025.

"We are not opposed to renewable energy," said Megan Brown, a spokeswoman for the CARE for Michigan Coalition. "We are opposed to cementing it into the state's constitution. It limits flexibility for the future."

Brown said it will cost $10 billion to implement the change, according to CARE's estimates. The group, including officials with the Detroit Regional Chamber of Conference, will hold a press conference at 10 a.m. Monday at Detroit's Roberts Riverwalk Hotel and Residence, kicking off a series of similar events across the state.

But officials with Washington D.C.-based Clean Water Action, one of the lead groups backing the measure, say other states have used green energy without significantly raising costs. That includes Iowa, which gets 21 percent of its energy from renewable sources, according to the group's web site.

"The question we are gathering signatures for is pretty straight forward," said Jon Scott, a Clean Water Action spokesman. "It's about creating jobs … and not depending on technology of a century ago, clean water and clean air. These are investments that pay for themselves very quickly."

The group is confident it will gather enough signatures by early July for the question to be on the November ballot.

The Michigan Legislature in 2008 passed an energy policy that included the goal of generating 10 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2015.

Among those who are expected to be at today's opposition launch: Conrad Mallet, former Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, Mike Langford, national president of the Utility Workers Union of America and Ben Erulkar, senior vice president of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce.

The fight could create plenty of sparks this summer, in part because it's really a business-vs.-business tussle. The measure pits "green" Michigan manufacturers such as Power Panel Inc. and Dow Chemical Co. against coal and natural gas suppliers and Michigan businesses that fear the move could mean higher electric rates.

"Michigan can be a global leader in clean energy manufacturing, but we have to start with the way we power our own homes and businesses," said Adam Stranton, vice president of Power Panel, which employs a dozen workers at its Detroit plant to manufacturer panels combining photovoltaic collectors and solar thermal collectors.

Both the Michigan and Detroit Regional chambers oppose the proposal.

The state's two largest utilities, Jackson-based Consumers Energy and Detroit-based DTE Energy, have invested in wind farms around the state and are in line to buy power generated by privately owned wind farms. Consumers Energy already has 13 hydroelectric dams that count toward the renewable energy requirement and currently gets 5 percent of its energy from renewable sources, while DTE Energy currently gets 5.5 percent.

Both companies say they're on track to meet the 10 percent requirement by the deadline, but warn it would cost $12 billion and require 3,100 more wind turbines spread over an area 17 times larger than the city of Grand Rapids to meet the 25 percent requirement by 2025, pushing up customers' costs.

"Our position is that the current standard is reasonable. It's affordable for customers," Consumers Energy spokesman Jeff Holyfield said Friday. "Let's meet that mark and determine what's the best course after that."

If the measure wins voter approval, it's likely to end up in court because of a provision that limits utility customers' annual rate increases to cover renewable energy to 1 percent.

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