Sinclair: Michigan should step up to renewable energy challenge

October 29, 2012 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

Passing Ballot Proposal 3 this November would set a goal of 25 percent renewable energy in Michigan by 2025.

Michigan voters have the opportunity to make our state a leader in the ongoing transition to a new economy. The window is open for us, but it will not stay open long.

In the not too distant future, Michigan will be powered, in significant part, by renewable energy. That is not in doubt.

What is in doubt is, who will manufacture the solar cells, wind turbines and other devices that will be part of that mix? Will Michigan’s rural communities have their incomes, roads and schools boosted by revenue from Michigan-made wind turbines, or will we be buying wind power from other, more far-sighted Midwestern states who have pushed ahead of us in deploying 21st century technology?

Overseas, countries like Germany, Denmark, China, India, Turkey and Brazil are sensing the opportunities of this moment.

Denmark has set a national goal of 35 percent renewables by 2020 — and they are already producing 40 percent of their electricity from renewables.

In some states in Germany, more than 40 percent of electricity is coming from wind, and on some days, almost half of this manufacturing giant’s electricity has come from rooftop solar cells.

Near home, Minnesota and Ohio have 25 percent goals in place. Iowa is generating more than 20 percent of its electricity from wind, keeping their energy costs down. Having seen it in action, more than three quarters of Iowans prefer wind energy above all other sources to power the state.

Colorado’s renewable goal is 30 percent by 2020.

Illinois has a 25 percent goal, and reports electricity costs already reduced by $171 million.

No wonder powerful fossil fuel interests are worried. They’re filling the airwaves with misinformation and distortion about the issue.

The fact is, a lot of people still have a stake in 19th century technologies like coal-fired power. But the costs of coal power in Michigan have gone up 71 percent in the last four years.

Think about it. The contrast is stark.

The more fossil fuel we use, inevitably, the more it costs. The more renewable energy we use, the LESS it costs.

Here in Michigan, our experience with new renewable energy has surprised skeptic and booster alike with how well wind turbines are performing. New wind power purchase contracts are being signed for 6 cents per kwh and below while, according to the Public Service Commission, new coal power would cost more than 13 cents.

And remember, that does not include the health costs of coal power, which new studies from Harvard and the National Research council say make coal’s actual cost to society more like  20 cents per kwh.

According to Livermore Laboratory, this is just the beginning. Wind power costs are poised to tumble even more, as new, more sensitive turbines become more efficient, and advanced manufacturing brings costs down further. The Michigan Environmental Council estimates that only 10 percent of Michigan’s on-shore wind capacity would be needed to meet the new standard.

In the wings, photovoltaic solar energy — a technology that local Michigan companies have rightfully made big bets on — is just getting started. In cloudy Germany, good policies have new solar energy pouring on to the grid faster than new transmission lines can handle it — one reason why Germany remains an economic powerhouse even in the face of the European financial crisis.

Germany is creating a new energy ownership society as middle class people, small businesses and local communities become energy producers in their own right.

This November, Michigan will send a message to our industrial competitors in the U.S. and around the world. There will be no nuance — it will be yes or no, up or down.

We can tell the world we are going to sit out the greatest industrial transformation of the new century, that we are going to hunker down, let others lead and see what happens. That Michigan is tired, and timid, and doesn’t feel quite up to the task.

Or, we can step up and say yes to the challenge, and show the world that Michigan, having led the industrial revolution of the last century, is ready to show up and lead the new one as well.

Vote yes on Proposal 3.

Peter Sinclair, a resident of Midland, has long been involved the green energy movement.

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