Facts Speak Louder Than Ads in Michigan When it Comes to Clean Energy

November 1, 2012 | 9:53 am
Laura Wisland
Former Contributor

In Michigan, a mind-blowing $24 million in cash and resources has been dumped into a last-ditch effort to derail Proposal 3, the voter-initiated plan to generate 25 percent of the state’s electricity from renewable energy by 2025. Michiganders hoping to sort out the facts amidst a barrage of attack ads should heed two pieces of sage advice. One, do not believe everything you see on TV. Two, follow the money.

This is part of a series on Proposal 3: The Michigan Renewable Energy Ballot Initiative.

Don’t be fooled by the warm and fuzzy acronym: Clean Affordable Renewable Energy for Michigan (CARE)

Two big utilities – Detroit Edison and Consumers Energy – account for more than 90 percent of the $24 million in direct and in-kind contributions to this deceptively named front group behind TV and radio ads attacking Prop 3.

photo: Flickr/jettajet

This same dirty duo sent $8.6 billion out of Michigan to pay for imported coal from 2002-2010 alone, money that could have been invested in homegrown renewable energy projects to create new Michigan jobs. Out-of-state contributors to CARE include the Texas-based Enbridge Energy, the company that spilled 800,000 gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River in 2010.

Fact check after fact check after fact check after fact check finds fault with CARE’s exaggerated claims about the cost of using more renewable energy in Michigan.

Americans for Prosperity Michigan Ballot Committee (AFP)

According to FactCheck.org, AFP is a political group founded by David Koch of Koch Industries, a resident of New York City who owes his status as one of the world’s wealthiest billionaires in part to profits from the coal, oil, and natural gas industries. As such, it’s no surprise AFP counts the Koch brothers among its major donors.

Nearly $1.5 million in money and resources has been dumped into this group behind a website and mailer that falsely tie rising electricity prices in Michigan to increasing use of renewable energy. A more likely culprit is the skyrocketing price of coal purchased by Michigan’s two largest utilities.

Mackinac Center for Public Policy

Cited by CARE’s fact-check-failing attack ads and the source of a “flawed and biased” study that misleads voters on the cost of Prop 3, the Mackinac Center has received tens of thousands of dollars from Koch and ExxonMobil foundations.

Get the facts

Most voters will agree that political groups funded by corporations heavily vested in coal and oil are not a reputable source of information about clean energy policy. So, where can voters turn for factual information about Prop 3?

Voters who read Prop 3 for themselves will find the following provision on containing costs:
“To protect consumers, compliance with the clean renewable electric energy standard shall not cause rates charged by electricity providers to increase by more than 1% in any year. Annual extensions for meeting the standard may be granted, but only to the extent demonstrated to be necessary for an electricity provider to comply with the foregoing rate limitation.”

A new, independent study from the University of Chicago’s Center for Local, State and Urban Policy (CLOSUP) found that Prop 3 is achievable within the proscribed annual rate cap. Notably, this study was not paid for by Prop 3 supporters or opponents, making it the only truly independent piece of analysis out there on the subject by a college or university.

Specifically, the CLOSUP study looked at different paths the utilities could take to meet their renewable energy requirements under Prop 3:

  • an “all-in-Michigan” investment scenario
  • a “neighboring states” scenario that would allow investments in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and potentially Minnesota and the Dakotas

The study also estimated the cost of Prop 3  with and without the Production Tax Credit (PTC), which could expire in December unless Congress renews it. If the PTC sticks around, the total rate increase attributable to Prop 3 is estimated to range between 3.5% to 6.5%; without the PTC, the range shifts to between 6.5% and 11%. Notably, under either scenario, the range falls within the Prop 3 cost cap.

When considering a vote for Prop 3, Michiganders should consider their experience under the state’s existing renewable energy requirement (10 percent by 2015). Data from the Michigan Public Service Commission (PSC) shows the state’s utilities are on track to meet this goal at lower costs than expected, and electricity generated by new renewable energy sources is now cheaper on average than power from new coal power plants. Consumers Energy customers now pay just 52 cents a month for more clean energy. A study commissioned by Prop 3 supporters found achieving the 25×25 goal for renewable energy will cost the typical household about the same, an estimated 50 cents more per month.

Michiganders have an important opportunity this November to move the state towards cleaner, healthier, and more sustainable electricity supplies. Not surprisingly, they are being bombarded with negative ads funded by the companies most threatened by fossil-fuel alternatives.

I’m confident voters can see through the rhetoric and send a message to Big Money that they may be able to buy expensive advertisements, but they can’t block the path to our clean energy future.