Hey, Michigan: Don’t Pull the Plug on Clean Power

Credit: Timo de Looij/iStock

An upcoming Senate vote could derail the great progress the state’s been making to combat the dangers of climate change.

Today, all across Michigan, nearly 90,000 people got up and went to work helping the Great Lakes State get more clean power from the wind and sun, improve energy efficiency, and build some of the best hybrid and all-electric cars anywhere in the world.

This workforce is helping to transform the Michigan economy, save money for Michigan families, and prepare the state for success in the global shift to clean energy options. And it’s striking a blow against the growing dangers of climate change, in Michigan and around the world.

Why, then, would state lawmakers want Michigan to turn its back on that kind of progress and the workers helping to advance it? That could happen as early as next week, when the state Senate is expected to vote on legislation that threatens to pull the plug on policies that promote smarter ways to power our future — and pull the rug out from under people hard at work to make Michigan a leader in the clean energy revolution.

The move is widely opposed by citizens’ groups, business leaders, and others because it would hurt the economy as well as the homes, schools, and churches that are saving money from clean energy. It is supported, though, by big, polluting power companies that want to anchor the state’s future in the dirty fuels of the past.

Legislators should stand up for the people they’ve been elected to serve. There’s never a good time to put big polluters first. And it certainly isn’t now, in Michigan of all places, where decisions by government officials have already left thousands of residents in the city of Flint with drinking water contaminated by lead.

Last year, Michigan met the state’s renewable energy requirement by getting 10 percent of its electricity from wind, solar, and other renewable sources. It has a long way to go, however. Nearly half of its electricity is still coming from coal, and much of the rest is generated by natural gas — two fossil fuels whose use is driving global climate change.

It’s time to build on the progress Michigan is already making. Legislation before the Senate, though, would take the people of this great state in the wrong direction. It would enable power companies to backslide. It would do away with the clean energy standard, substituting voluntary goals in its place. We can’t let that happen, in Michigan or anywhere else.

Over the past decade or so, about 30 states have put in place renewable energy standards to make sure clean wind power and solar power become a growing part of the electricity mix. That makes sense. The U.S. Department of Energy tells us we can get nearly two thirds of our electricity from the wind and sun by 2050. These state standards support the workers who are helping us get there.

The standards are feeding a virtuous cycle. The more wind and solar power we install, as a nation, the cheaper it becomes. Sure enough, since 2009, the costs of installing utility-scale solar and wind power have fallen by 80 percent and 60 percent, respectively, the international financial consulting firm Lazard reports. This means that in more and more places around the country, wind and solar have become a better bet, dollar for dollar, when it comes to generating the electricity of the future. That’s why, last year, wind and solar power accounted for 62.4 percent of all the new electric generating capacity installed in the United States.

In Michigan, wind turbines generate 4.2 percent of the state’s electricity, enough to power 437,000 typical homes. And the DOE estimates this number could grow to 710,000 Michigan homes by 2030.

Dozens of progressive power companies have welcomed this shift and embraced the opportunity to invest in energy that doesn’t put our future in peril. Others, though, are on the verge of panic, rushing to their state and federal lawmakers to demand protection from the forces driving this epic transition.

In states like Kansas, North Carolina, and Colorado, big polluters have teamed up with front groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council to try to undercut renewable energy standards. We can’t let them turn back the progress we need. Similarly, in at least 18 states, fossil fuel interests have prompted legislation to block the centerpiece of President Obama’s climate change agenda, his Clean Power Plan, aimed at cleaning up the dirty power plants that account for 40 percent of our carbon footprint.

We need to let our lawmakers know — in Congress and in our state legislatures — that we care about good jobs in clean energy for our workers. We care about improving efficiency so we do more with less waste. We care about protecting our children from the dangers of climate change. And we need to send the same message to our governors, too, in Michigan and everywhere else.

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