Michigan Can Transition to 100-Percent Renewable Energy by 2035, Save Lives, and Create Jobs

April 27, 2022 | 6:00 am
Sara Faraj
Bridget Vial
Energy Democracy Organizer, Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition

Imagine: It’s spring in the year 2040. On a warm, windy day in Southwest Detroit, you pause under a magnolia tree. Its buds are full to bursting with pink and white blossoms. The air smells like rain, and—compared to what you grew up with—feels cleaner in your nose and lungs.

From this 2040 perspective, Michigan’s 100-percent renewable energy standard took full effect five years ago, and—along with accelerated closures of coal plants, like the one in Monroe, and a ban on new gas plant construction—it has saved Michigan families at least $15 billion in public health costs. Plus, we’ve been spared the devastating experiences associated with that price tag: Late nights in the emergency room. Family members lost too soon. Community-owned solar cooperatives are flourishing in Black, Brown, and low-income communities, building wealth in the very households who bore the brunt of Michigan’s fossil fuel economy for generations.

This future is possible, and new research by the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition and Union of Concerned Scientists proves it: Michigan can transition to 100-percent renewable energy by 2035 and can do it by prioritizing investments in the communities most impacted.

Readers, I know you are on Team Just Transition. Perhaps you are reading this blog because it’s affirming to amass evidence of what you already believe to be true: That there is a future in our Great Lakes state where everyone, regardless of race or zip code, can live with security, dignity and joy.

  • We have every reason to move quickly: A 100-percent by 2035 Renewable Energy Standard (RES) yields more health benefits (400 to 900 fewer premature deaths; 9,000 fewer cases of asthma exacerbation) and more job creation (100,000 additional jobs) than a business-as-usual scenario.
  • Rapid electrification without policies to meet the new energy demand with renewable energy threatens to exacerbate environmental racism due to increased power plant emissions, raising concerns around such targets as large-scale electric vehicle adoption goals in absence of rapid power sector decarbonization.
  • A just transition requires a suite of policies, including mandating emissions reductions in environmental justice (EJ) communities, ensuring equitable access to energy efficiency and electrification, promoting community-owned solar with targeted investments in EJ communities, and capping energy bills based on income.

Environmental justice communities have, for decades, taken on the work of proving environmental harm and its outsized impact on communities of color and low-income communities. At the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, we are excited to partner with the Union of Concerned Scientists because the just transition roadmap—the proof of its feasibility and benefits—is one critical tool we wield in this David and Goliath fight against the fossil fuel industry and its death grip on climate justice action in Lansing and Washington, D.C. We are fighting to make a just, livable future possible.

We’re glad to be in this fight with you.

You can support the call for 100-percent renewable energy for Michigan by clicking here.

Bridget Saunders Vial is the energy democracy organizer with the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition. She works closely with such partners as Soulardarity and We Want Green Too to challenge abuses of the investor-owned monopoly utility system and fight for health, affordability, and community ownership of renewable energy.

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