All Talk, No Action Leaving Michigan’s Clean Energy Future in Limbo

February 25, 2016 | 12:56 pm
Sam Gomberg
Senior Analyst

Last week, Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder announced his signing onto the Governor’s Accord for a New Energy Future—a bipartisan agreement among 17 states to work together on advancing clean energy technologies and “transformational policy changes.”

It’s a fine gesture, but on the very same day, Governor Snyder also announced that Michigan was suspending its Clean Power Plan activities pending court resolution. Actions speak louder than words. Unfortunately, the governor is once again leaving Michigan’s potential for a bright clean energy future in the dark.   

Governor Snyder

Governor Snyder has talked about Michigan taking control of its energy future, but very little has actually been accomplished. Photo: Michigan Municipal League

For more than three years, Governor Snyder has been talking about Michigan taking control of its energy future. He has convened more than a year’s worth of studies that showed how renewable energy and energy efficiency benefit Michigan, held listening sessions around the state where the public weighed in to support more clean energy investments, given a special address on energy where he called for a stronger commitment to renewables and efficiency, and created the Michigan Agency for Energy to “set Michigan on a path toward affordable, reliable energy.”

But little has actually been accomplished to make Michigan’s energy future appreciably more reliable, affordable, or sustainable.

Michigan doesn’t need more talk

Michigan is already in a good position to achieve a truly clean, affordable, and reliable energy future. Its renewable energy and energy efficiency standards—adopted in 2008—have successfully driven investments in these resources and provided a strong foundation on which to build.

The state just reported that utilities are on pace to exceed the current 10 percent standard at lower cost than originally anticipated. But the current renewable energy standard effectively expired at the end of 2015, and the momentum gained over the last several years is at risk of fizzling out.

Meanwhile, the Michigan Public Service Commission continues to report on the benefits of energy efficiency, finding that each dollar spent to reduce energy waste is producing more than $4 in benefits. And it is widely agreed that there remains enormous untapped potential to develop these resource further.

A stalled Legislature in need of leadership

The Michigan legislature has yet to make significant progress on strong energy policy. Leadership from the Governor could help move things along. Photo: © Creative Commons/Brian Charles Watson (Wikimedia)

Current proposals at the Michigan legislature would do little to advance clean energy resources. Leadership from Governor Snyder could change that. Photo: Brian Charles Watson/Wikimedia

Michigan needs new action to ensure that the state creates the 21st century electricity system to power our 21st century economy. But that leadership hasn’t materialized.

An energy bill proposal currently on the House floor does not increase the renewable energy standard and would actually eliminate the energy efficiency standard after 2018. An initial proposal put forth in the Senate would reverse that—eliminating the renewables standard and keeping the efficiency standard as is. Neither proposal would significantly move the state forward in developing these resources or provide any certainty to clean energy industries looking to invest. Nor would they provide any certainty to Michiganders that their energy future will be any more affordable, reliable, or clean than it is right now.

This is exactly where Governor Snyder’s leadership could make a difference. If Michigan is going to take control of its energy future, then it needs strong policies that drive investments in low-cost, low-risk and environmentally sound energy resources like wind, solar, and energy efficiency.

But through a year and a half of legislative dithering, Governor Snyder has largely taken a back seat. And now, by suspending the state’s Clean Power Plan activities, he has stepped even further away from leadership on these issues. Sixteen other states have stepped up and stated they will continue with Clean Power Plan compliance plan development – recognizing the importance—and benefits—of continuing to take action on a new energy future.

A brighter energy future for Michigan

Strengthening Michigan's commitment to renewables and efficiency would provide significant benefits.

Strengthening Michigan’s commitment to renewables and efficiency would provide significant benefits.

Let’s be clear—the Supreme Court’s stay on the CPP does nothing to change the reality of climate change and the urgent need to transition away from our overreliance on fossil fuels. It also does nothing to change the reality that renewable energy and energy efficiency are cost-effective, low-risk, and reliable resources to help meet Michigan’s electricity demand, stabilize electricity bills, and reduce the public health impacts of Michigan’s electricity sector. On its own, signing onto a multi-state accord won’t put steel in the ground to build a cleaner energy future.

It’s time for the governor to stop putting off real action to continue discussing what we already know. We know renewables and efficiency are good for Michigan, so let’s strengthen the state’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards and get moving on building a brighter future for Michiganders.