It’s been two weeks since Gov. Snyder announced his new energy plan for Michigan, and sides are already being taken, but this time there appears to be a middle ground — a phenomenon of which, like Brigadoon, appears magically only every four years.
The governor carefully qualified his policy initiative with no promises that any positive relentless action would occur anytime soon. MLive reports:
Snyder said he hopes to have legislation in place in 2015, which is when the state’s current renewable energy and energy efficiency programs end. He said it’d be difficult to pass a comprehensive energy policy in 2014 since it’s an election year.
In his pre-Christmas policy statement, Snyder told the press that he intends to emphasize renewable energy and a curtailment of the state’s reliance on coal. Ironically, he also emphasized the importance of the stability of the power grid and a policy goal for the reduction in the number of, and duration of power outages — just hours before the state’s capitol was plunged into darkness for a hellish week of cold and misery while the governor enjoyed a safe warm holiday with his family.
Lansing residents are in no mood to hear about a 2015 solution.
A huge sticking point will be Snyder’s support of fracking in the state. This issue is an absolute non-starter for many clean energy advocates. They gnash their teeth when they hear the governor claim that Michigan is “a role model for fracking done right”. Even a modest centrist would have to admit that the Great Lakes region is the worst possible place to test the long-term effects of the latest fracking technologies. The risk is simply too great.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. It is likely that, not by sheer coincidence, just a few hours prior to the unveiling of the new energy policy, Wolverine Power Supply Cooperative announced they were scrapping a proposed 600 megawatt coal-fired power plant in Rogers City. They had been fighting for the plant since 2006, making the “clean coal” sales pitch — a claim which makes even the most mild-mannered environmentalist want to hurt somebody real bad. The Environmental Law & Policy Center expressed relief that the project was canned, citing the dirty truth about “clean coal”:
According to the plant’s air permit, Wolverine would have added 995 tons of particulate pollution, 1,344 tons of SO2 pollution, and 2,647 tons of NOx pollution annually. The company also proposed releasing 46.8 pounds of mercury pollution, which will end up in area lakes and rivers; 700 pounds of lead, and more than 6 million tons of greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide.
Okay, so our air will be that much less polluted…
Yet, will centrist Republicans ever again be able to attract the kind of support necessary for a meaningful energy policy? Or are the golden years of Bill Milliken never to be revisited by the Michigan GOP?
Claiming the center ground on energy policy will not be easy for conservatives. And they aren’t off to an impressive start. They launched their social media in mid-December and are struggling to gain a following. Their facebook page, titled Michigan Conservative Energy Forum, isn’t exactly catching fire with 88 “likes” as of this writing. Their mission statement sounds reasonable enough though, yet it will certainly garner detractors from both the left and the right.
The MCEF is a newly formed organization of MI conservatives who believe that the state must transition to clean, renewable energy sources.MCEF Mission Statement: “Create and sustain an organization to facilitate a clean energy dialogue among CenterRight leaders and activists. By depoliticizing the issue we will then have created the capacity and credibility to educate and advocate for clean energy policy among conservatives and lead to a more cohesive political environment in which to pursue both state and federal future clean energy policy”.
The Michigan League of Conservation Voters, a “non-partisan political voice for protecting Michigan’s land, air, and water”, is willing to give them the benefit of the doubt for the time-being. In a press release, the MLCV refers to the governor’s plan as “an encouraging starting point that needs to be supported by legislative action at the start of the 2014 session”. They know the political realities will make it a tough row to hoe, and the governor hasn’t exactly gained their full faith and credit having earned a “C” grade from the organization over his prior environmental and energy policies.
Amidst the political upheaval of an election year, we can expect ALEC to get involved in the battle over Michigan’s energy future. At their recent States and Nation Policy Summit held a month ago, Some new model legislation was unveiled, included among the expected attack on EPA regulations of greenhouse gases and the Clean Air Act, was a pre-written resolution for states to allow energy companies to charge “net metering” customers for their share in the upkeep of the power grid. Net metering is a practice where customers who produce a portion of their own energy through solar and wind generation are permitted to sell-back excess power to the utility in exchange for a credit.
Just a few months ago, the Michigan Public Service Commission reported an uptick of net metering in the state:
Since 2008, when Public Act 295 required the establishment of a statewide net metering program, net metering has increased by 1,277 customers.
The report noted that the number of net metering customers increased from 1,015 in 2011 to 1,330 in 2012. The total size of the net metering program increased 55 percent to 9,583 kW in 2012.
Public interest, along with a push for renewable energy by centrist forces, combined with the irresistible forces found in an election year, will most certainly pull the trigger on a full-scale ALEC push on Michigan GOP lawmakers. While the ALEC-like bills and resolutions may be introduced from the far right, they don’t stand a chance of passing, and Snyder would never sign them into law…at least not prior to the first Tuesday of November, 2014.
After that, all bets are off.
Amy Kerr Hardin
Updated at 8pm on Jan. 2, 2014
Read more about ALEC and net metering in Arizona here.
Find a list of Michigan lawmakers with ties to ALEC here.