By Stephen Lacey
Michigan is becoming the new ground zero in a disinformation campaign against renewable energy.
In an effort to expand the state's renewable energy targets, a coalition of environmental groups and local businesses is gathering signatures for a November ballot initiative that would increase Michigan's Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) to 25% by 2025.
But that's not sitting well with large power companies and the Chamber of Commerce.
Yesterday, a group backed by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and two of the state's largest utilities dubbed "Clean Affordable Renewable Energy for Michigan Coalition," (CARE) rolled out a campaign to stop the ballot initiative before it truly begins.
The group's messaging, which contradicts real-world experience with renewable energy deployment in Michigan and surrounding states, is typical for the heel-dragging, climate change-denying Chamber of Commerce. Even with the overwhelming positive economic evidence and the diverse range of businesses supporting an increase in renewable energy in the state, the Chamber and its utility allies say they're ready to put up a big fight.
They're not fighting with much evidence on their side.
Last week, 120 companies operating in Michigan signed a letter supporting the ballot initiative increasing the state's RPS. Proponents of the initiative say the increase in renewable energy would spur billions in economic activity and potentially create tens of thousands of jobs.
In February, Michigan's Public Service Commission issued a report showing the state's current RPS, which requires 10% penetration by 2015, has already spurred $100 million in economic activity. The report also shows a remarkable trend seen throughout the rest of the country: the cost of wind, solar, and hydro "is cheaper than a new coal-fired generation" in the state.
That changing equation is making renewable energy far more cost-effective for ratepayers. In nearby Iowa and Minnesota - states with the second and fourth most wind energy respectively - a dramatic increase in wind installations has had a minimal impact on rates. In fact, a recent study in Iowa shows the state's 20% wind penetration is keeping rates below the national average - while also supporting more than 3,000 manufacturing jobs in the state.
Even with all this real-world experience, CARE for Michigan, which is tied to the state's utilities, has undertaken a slick new campaign to stop the ballot initiative.
CARE's campaign is publicly backed by the Michigan Jobs and Energy Coalition, which includes DTE Energy, Consumers Energy, the Michigan Electric Cooperative Association, and the Detroit Regional Chamber.
"The big utilities fighting this are large bureaucratic entities that resist change," says Mark Fisk, a spokesman for the advocacy campaign that's working to raise the RPS. "What the utilities aren't telling people is the cost of doing nothing."
Although proponents estimate a new target will add roughly $1.25 to a typical utility bill in Michigan, CARE is trying to stoke fears by calling additional targets "reckless."
However, on multiple occasions since 2008, Consumers Energy reported the cost of meeting Michigan's renewable energy targets has been far lower than anticipated. In fact, just last month Consumers Energy reduced its renewable electricity surcharge by 13 cents. It reduced the surcharge in May of 2011 as well, citing the lower-than-expected costs to meeting targets. That move cut yearly costs to consumers by $5 million.
This is only one state ballot initiative. But it has national implications. With powerful political organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Americans for Prosperity, and Americans for Tax Reform focusing attention on dismantling state Renewable Portfolio Standards around the country, they've started a concerted disinformation campaign on the cost of these programs.
Real world experience continually proves them wrong.
Assuming this initiative gets on the ballot in November, it offers a major choice for voters. Will they trust the word of companies trying to protect their own short-term self interest? Or will they trust the real, on-the-ground experience from states all over the country?
Stephen Lacy is Editor of Climate Progress.
Here's the coalition that's advocating for the RPS: