It’s time to move past the debate on whether global warming is occurring and just accept it – temperatures around the world are rising. The question now is what can do about it. We have so far only seen the earliest of consequences the world could face unless alternative, environmentally friendly sources of energy become commonplace. Global warming is primarily caused by human activity, and its effects can be reversed in the same way. The state of Michigan has the opportunity to tip the scales towards sustainability, and the University should lead the way by moving towards a larger reserve of sustainable energy, especially wind power.
Noble Environmental Power is currently building 32 1.5-megawatt wind turbines in the northern Lower Peninsula of Michigan. Wind turbines generate pollution-free electricity, and they already compete economically with fossil fuels. The state currently has just three turbines of comparable scale in Traverse City and Mackinaw City, and NEP’s wind farm will give Michigan enough wind energy to power 16,000 homes. Noble intends to eventually build 250 turbines, making Michigan a leader in wind energy.
Thanks to its long coastline, Michigan has the potential to generate wind power equivalent to the energy from more than 60 large-scale nuclear power plants. The state’s climate and industrial capacity are similar to Germany – the world’s leader in wind power – but Michigan’s potential could be even greater because of its coasts.
However, this vast potential will remain untapped unless state leaders spur investment to help offset the cost of building the turbines. The University has a long-standing commitment to environmental leadership and energy efficiency. Although its environmental task force recommended the University begin purchasing some of its energy from renewable sources, the University has not yet done so.
Another profitable and mature renewable energy source, biodiesel, was brought to Michigan by the University’s decision to run its bus fleet on the fuel. Pumps at Ann Arbor’s Meijer now sell biodiesel to the public for use in ordinary diesel cars and trucks. In the same way, the University can drive the growth of wind energy in the state.
The “green premium” rate that utility companies charge, usually around two cents per kilowatt-hour to individual consumers, is a small price when compared to the benefits of giving back to the state by encouraging new industries and investment in a time when Michigan desperately needs it.
The University immediately should set a timeline to incorporate renewable energy into its own portfolio. Anticipated contracts from large buyers like the University will encourage investors who might otherwise shy away from an uncertain commitment. What may be a simple change for the University can set a precedent for local communities like Ann Arbor that have also discussed purchasing more renewable energy, but have not yet acted.
There is no excuse for inaction when the rewards of action are so high and the cost of procrastination so prohibitive. Michigan’s sluggish Legislature must wake up and approve state Rep. Chris Kolb’s (D-Ann Arbor) bill requiring the state to generate 7 percent of its power from renewable sources. Ultimately, this issue is more than an economic proposition or an environmental crusade – it’s a question of whether we’re committed to our own future.