Michigan Clean Energy: Lessons Unlearned in Lansing

Michigan has long seen the value of renewables and energy efficiency to attract investment and buoy its economy--something that continues to pay dividends, as the state was 4th in the nation in adding clean energy jobs last year. A big chunk of that success is a direct result of the state's energy efficiency and renewable energy standards. Those policies have resulted in huge economic gains:

But those positive lessons are being unlearned in Lansing where an odd effort is afoot in the statehouse to repel that sort of growth. A bill has been introduced in the legislature to roll back the very clean energy standards that have made Michigan into an emerging clean energy beacon. My colleague Patrick Kenneally has an exhaustive account of the ugly bill being considered in the legislature. It's a depressing read.

But despite this potentially bad turn, all is not lost.

Governor Snyder has been consistent in saying all the right things about the importance of renewables and energy efficiency for the state's economy. And on Friday the 13th, he can make that support crystal clear when he delivers his annual "energy and environment" speech.

Not that he needs to be schooled on the importance of the state's energy economy, but the Governor need only look south to the other side of Lake Erie for a cautionary tale. Ohio's decision to freeze its energy standards has brought an array of crushing economic impacts--with formerly robust wind development drying up. Of particular note for Michigan officials who are considering the roll back: some of the clean energy investments relocated from Ohio to Michigan because of the solid clean energy policies of Michigan. Roll back of Michigan policies would put these economically positive projects in danger in Michigan as well.

Clean energy is good politics in the state. It should not be a partisan issue in Michigan; just look at conservative columnist Nolan Finley's powerful column in yesterday's Detroit News, "For Michigan right wingers, more green energy makes sense," which highlights the similarity between views of religious conservatives in state with my own group's take.

Alas, the Governor is unlikely to get anything good out of the legislature on the energy front this year. But that does not mean he should just let the bad stuff skate through. Going backwards benefits nobody, except maybe the out-of-state interests pushing coal into Michigan. Governor Snyder will have ample opportunity to advance clean energy using his executive powers in the coming months, but only if he vetoes the counterproductive mess bubbling up from the legislature.

In 2013, Governor Snyder called energy efficiency "the best example of a no-regrets policy Michigan can have." Slashing the state's clean energy standards wouldn't just cause regrets, it would cost jobs. So, let's hope that Friday the 13th brings a message in support of clean energy policies, not an energy slasher speech.

UPDATE: Governor Snyder delivered his speech today and it was the opposite of a slasher. It was incredibly heartening, with a focus on aggressive renewable energy targets and maintaining the state's energy efficiency standards. My colleague Patrick Kenneally described it as a "bold vision" in NRDC's reaction to the address.