The answer to Michigan’s economic woes lies in the state’s natural resources, Gov. Jennifer Granholm said yesterday to kick off a two-day environmental law conference. She said one of Michigan’s greatest economic opportunities is to bolster the state’s alternative energy industry.
Granholm opened the Environmental Law and Policy Program’s inaugural conference by paying tribute to six University faculty members and two graduate students for their work with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of scientists that shared the 2007 Nobel Prize with former Vice President Al Gore.
In the speech at the Law School’s Honigman Auditorium, Granholm said Michigan needs to use its natural resources to generate alternative and renewable energy sources. She said doing so would create a new industry for the state and help to revive its struggling economy.
“If you’re the CEO of a company, you’re going to try to figure out what it is that makes you competitive,” she said. “So what does Michigan have?”
Her answer: water, wind, woods and waste — all of which Michigan has plenty of, she said.
The state has more than 12,000 inland lakes and the longest freshwater shoreline in the world. And because Michigan is surrounded by four of the five great lakes, the wind generated from the shoreline provides the state with another viable option for alternative energy, she said.
In an annual report released earlier this month, the University Research Corridor — a research coalition between the University, Michigan State University and Wayne State University — found that biomass waste and wind are the state’s two most abundant energy sources.
The URC is currently working to develop alternative energy technologies in line with Granholm’s strategy. Some projects include developing solar cells and biomass and biodisel conversion technologies.
Granholm commended the Michigan House of Representatives for passing a comprehensive, long-term energy plan last April, saying it was a significant step for the Michigan to create a new market for alternative sources of energy.
“In order to create a market, you have to create a policy framework,” she said.
As part of the energy plan, the state pledged to obtain 10 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2015 — something Granholm said was necessary to draw energy companies to Michigan.
Granholm also highlighted how the energy plan would encourage Michigan residents to install solar panels and small wind turbines to their homes, in order to generate their own energy.
“If you want to install that and generate your own renewable energy, and you generate enough so that it’s more than you can use,” she said. “You can sell that back to the grid.”
Touching on the conference’s topic, “An Environmental Agenda for the Next Administration”, Granholm said the next step, both for Michigan and at the federal level, is to provide an incentive for the utility companies to focus on energy efficiency.
“Right now when you flip a switch, the more energy you use, the more the University of Michigan has to pay on their energy bill,” she said. “What if the energy companies were rewarded by using less energy?
Granholm concluded her hour-long address by challenging the University’s law students.
“You can make money, you can serve yourself,” she said. “But really the noblest thing to do is to give it back and serve others.”
First-year law student Mathew Crowe said he agreed with Granholm’s desire to decrease the state’s dependence on foreign fuel, but was skeptical of her plan for implementing her polices.
“You need a sound political policy in order to get people on board,” he said. “And what’s going to distinguish a good overall policy from just something that was sold well is going to be what lies beneath it. What are the facts?”
The conference continues today and will host panels on sustainability and climate change featuring many University professors and national experts.