State Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor, proposed a bill last week to require all utilities’ energy in Michigan to come from renewable sources by 2050. The state of Michigan currently requires 10 percent of energy to come from renewable sources such as wind and solar, and this number will increase to 15 percent by 2021.
Under Rabhi’s proposed legislation, House Bill 6466, this standard of renewable energy requirements would increase to 25 percent by 2025, 50 percent by 2032, 75 percent by 2040, and 100 percent by 2050.
The bill follows a report released by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that warned of the dangers that will face ecosystems and human health if global warming is not soon limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
“Part of the timing on this is we saw the International Commission that issued its dire predictions of what was going to happen to our planet, not within the next century, but within decades and less if we don’t do something about climate change,” Rabhi said.
In 2011, the University of Michigan established a set of sustainability goals to achieve by 2025, chief among them to reduce campus emissions 25 percent below the 2006 level of 680,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent. In 2017, the University emitted approximately 644,000 metric tons, representing a decrease of about 5 percent.
LSA senior Carly Rosenberg, a student studying in the Program in the Environment, voiced support of Rabhi’s bill and spoke on the importance of taking action at the state level to reduce harmful environmental impacts of climate change.
“I support this bill 100 percent,” Rosenberg said. “At the very least, I think it’s really important that he’s bringing in this bill because it’s calling attention to the fact that we need to do better and Michigan could be at the forefront of renewable energy and reducing our carbon footprint.”
DTE Energy, serving about 2.2 million customers in southeast Michigan, has also released plans to improve upon their own energy sources. Earlier this year, the company announced plans to double their use of renewable energy over the coming four years through wind and solar energy. The company has also proposed plans to reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent before 2050, with the goal of having renewable sources power 40 percent of its energy by 2040.
Like Rabhi’s bill, DTE’s plan to increase use of renewable energy also has interim targets to meet their goals. These targets would reduce emissions by 30 percent before the late 2020s, 45 percent by 2030 and 75 percent by 2040. While Rabhi does expect some opposition from state energy companies regarding his proposal of 100 percent renewable energy, he also believes the 30-year timeline to accomplish the goal will allow companies adequate time to adjust.
Rabhi explained the current standards in Michigan have already set the precedent for increasing the use of renewable energy, and the bill would continue the practices that are currently used but would increase standards to higher percentages.
“There’s already a precedent and a mechanism in place to force the utilities to do these types of increases in terms of their ratio of alternative energy that’s generated of the total amount of energy,” Rabhi said. “The mechanism would really be the same that we currently have in the current system, and it would just be increasing the percentage standard … so that there’s sort of benchmarks and dates by which the utilities have to improve their renewable energy standard over that period of time, which is now only 32 years.”
Engineering junior Nathan Houghteling, who helped found the Michigan Energy Club last year and currently serves as its vice president, stated he agrees it’s necessary to set goals to reduce the impacts of climate change in the energy industry, and the energy industry is a place where this work can be done. However, he also thinks it is important to think about the implications of a 100 percent renewable energy plan.
“There’s a lot of complexities involved with renewable energy that our current grid isn’t equipped for,” Houghteling said. “A lot of it’s the intermittency of renewable sources, especially wind and solar, and to accommodate a 100-percent renewable grid would require a lot of new technologies. What could potentially happen is the costs of these technologies don’t fall enough over the next thirty years, is we could see a dramatic spike in the price of energy per unit for residential users, for commercial users, for people across the board who are trying to buy energy if we’re trying to go to a 100-percent renewable grid.”
For Rabhi, the bill is a vision that sets goals for where the state and the country should be moving in terms of renewable energy.
“I wanted to set the goalpost of where we should be going. I don’t necessarily support an energy future that has any CO2 emitting sources, I think that we should ultimately have a carbon-free energy economy, and so I would like to see a day when Michigan, and quite frankly our country and our world, doesn’t have to use carbon to generate energy,” Rabhi said. “Instead of passing legislation or putting forward legislation that is sort of working around the margins of the problem, I’d like to actually aspire to something and address the actual problem.”
When considering the impacts this bill might have on students, Rabhi emphasized the effects of climate change on young people who currently see the climate changing and who might, in the future, witness even more drastic effects to the environment if steps aren’t taken soon to reduce global warming.
Rosenberg agreed and spoke on the actions the University is taking to reduce harm to the environment. She also highlighted the influence that the state legislative level could have on the University in continuing to improve their environmentally-friendly decisions and projects.
“I know (the University of) Michigan has really lofty goals of becoming renewable and there’s a huge emphasis on serving local food in the dining halls and on campus to reduce carbon footprints,” Rosenberg said. “I think it could just be a really inspiring push for the University because obviously, they want to be at the forefront of what’s happening, and they’re already doing their part but it could be even more if the state of Michigan were to actually implement this … Long term, it could be really, really important in mitigating climate change.”
Houghteling urged consideration of the details that must be taken into account should a bill such as Rabhi’s be implemented. Specifically, he spoke on the importance of ensuring power is transmitted safely, efficiently and with a good quality of the power. Focusing on technologies that will be necessary for increasing renewable energy standards will be vital, he explained.
“I would say with some confidence that I don’t think there’s any grid on the scale of a state that could handle 100 percent renewable energy today,” Houghteling said. “Just technologically it wouldn’t work, the grid would fail. I think that looking out towards 2050 there’s a lot of room for those developments to be made, but I’m looking at the technologies.”
Rabhi further spoke on activism he’s seen around campus on the issues of climate change and protecting the environment. He highlighted the impact this bill could have on living conditions in the future.
“It impacts us now and it impacts us in the future, and we need to be at the forefront of advocacy to push for a carbon-free future,” Rabhi said. “I think it impacts everybody, and it impacts our climate, our environment, and ultimately it impacts each of our abilities to live on a planet that continues to be habitable into the future.”