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Michigan voters divided on Proposition 3

By Tui Rademaker, Daily Staff Reporter
Published October 18, 2012

In the third of six ballot proposals Michigan voters will face on Nov. 6, voters will have the opportunity to decide to institute environmental policy in the state constitution, an effort that no other state has undertaken.

Proposal 3 — officially titled Michigan Energy, Michigan Jobs — which would expand the state’s efforts in renewable energy, has power companies and environmental groups divided. If passed, energy companies would be required to provide 25 percent of their services from renewable sources by 2025, while raising the costs to consumers by no more than 1 percent.

Michigan already has a Renewable Portfolio Standard in place as a result of the Clean, Renewable and Efficient Energy Act of 2008, which requires 10 percent of energy output to be produced from renewable sources by 2015.

Statewide television airwaves have been cluttered with advertisements opposing the ballot initiative. To date, the interest group Clean Affordable Renewable Energy for Michigan Coalition has spent almost $5.7 million in advertising in opposition to the proposal.

Among CARE for Michigan Coalition’s primary donors is DTE Energy. DTE spokesman Alejandro Bodipo-Memba said officials feel that energy policy should be addressed in the state Legislature, rather than in the form of a constitutional amendment. He also expressed concern over how the proposal would impact consumers’ energy bills.

“We believe this is bad energy policy,” Bodipo-Memba said. “ … We think this is bad for customers, we think this is certainly going to increase costs. (The 1-percent cap) does not take into account a host of other costs that are associated with the production of energy.”

In contrast to DTE’s position, State Rep. Jeff Irwin (D–Ann Arbor) said Proposal 3 is a policy he is most excited about and in support of this election season.

Irwin said many renewable sources are actually more economically efficient than building new coal power plants.

“That argument that (power companies are) going to increase electricity rates, I believe, is simply their political effort to encourage you to vote no and to scare people away from voting yes.” Irwin said.

In a panel discussion hosted by the Ford School of Public Policy Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy, Sanya Carley, an assistant professor at Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs, said that to date, 33 states plus the District of Columbia have adopted Renewable Portfolio Standards.

She noted that Michigan’s Clean, Renewable, and Efficient Energy Act of 2008 makes the state the most competitive in terms of renewable energy standards.

Thomas Lyon, the Dow chair of sustainable science, technology and commerce at the University, also spoke at the Ford School panel. Lyon estimated that for the average household paying $200 a month in energy costs, Michigan Energy, Michigan Jobs would produce an increase of about $12 a month, adding that he disagrees with CARE’s overall estimate that the amendment would cost $12 billion.

Irwin said the amendment is vital to Michigan’s energy independence and has vast advantages for both the environment and the economy.

“It has the potential to create and improve economic growth in Michigan,” Irwin said. “There’s a jobs component of it — there are literally billions (of dollars) in opportunities that Michigan could invest in wind, solar and geothermal power and making those opportunities a reality would be very good for our state.”

Irwin also said environmental and health factors are crucial when considering the adoption of Proposal 3.

“Coal is one of the dirtiest forms of (energy),” Irwin said. “Right now we are dealing with the consequences of our heavy investment in coal and our heavy reliance on coal in Michigan, and we’ve seen that in terms of respiratory problems, high childhood asthma rates, and — the most important — pollution in our Great Lakes.”

LSA senior Rachel Jankowski, the chair of the University’s chapter of College Republicans, said the amendment would discourage companies from creating and sustaining jobs in Michigan, a state already riddled with economic troubles.

“I think any kind of restriction like that on a business is going to cost a ton of money,” Jankowski said. “I think the government mandating that we need 25 percent of renewable in the next 12 years is honestly completely unrealistic.”

LSA senior Lauren Coffman, the communications director for the University’s chapter of College Democrats, echoed Irwin’s assertion that the amendment will improve Michigan’s future.

“Proposition 3 will protect the environment and increase our state’s energy independence,” Coffman said. “It will improve economic growth, bringing manufacturing jobs back to Michigan and ensuring a better future for Michigan's residents.”

In a poll conducted by Baydoun Consulting — a Michigan-based political research group — released on Oct. 5, about 40 percent of likely Michigan voters supported the Clean Energy initiative amendment, about 45 percent opposed it and 15 percent of those polled were undecided.

The numbers indicate a significant change in opinion from Baydoun’s September poll, in which about 47 percent of respondents supported the initiative and about 36 percent opposed the measure.