Presidential elections tend to draw a higher percentage of the population to the ballot box, which makes this an important year for other issues that Michigan residents will vote on.
Proposal 3 might be the most important of this year’s six ballot proposals. It would increase the renewable energy standard in Michigan to 25 percent by 2025. This would raise our state’s current goal of 10 percent renewable energy by 2015, a standard approved by the state legislature in 2008.
I spent last semester interning for one of the groups advocating for this ballot initiative — the Michigan League of Conservation Voters — so I have a strong bias toward the approval of Proposal 3. MLCV is an Ann Arbor-based organization that describes itself as “the leading non-partisan political voice for protecting Michigan’s land, air, and water,” and has offered its support for Prop 3 because “in-state renewable energy production means thousands of new in-state jobs.”
Whenever I bring up Proposal 3 — yeah, I’m a lot of fun at parties — the most common concern is if the cost of expanding renewable energy would go straight to our energy bills. Fortunately, the proposal specifies that companies can’t increase their electric utility rate any more than 1 percent per year solely to comply with the standard. If it’s truly impossible to achieve compliance without increasing rates, the proposal allows for deadline extensions. However, that shouldn’t be too much of a problem, considering that a total of 20 states have already passed similar initiatives “without significant increases in utility costs for consumers,” including three other Great Lakes states — Illinois, Minnesota and Ohio.
After they find the cost isn’t going toward consumers, people are generally concerned that the increased requirement will lead to job cuts within energy companies. However, the proposal mandates that the legislature “enact additional laws to encourage the use of Michigan-made equipment and employment of Michigan residents,” which would actually lead to the creation of more jobs in Michigan rather than relying on outside labor and resources to supply our energy.
Currently, 60 percent of Michigan’s energy is provided by out-of-state coal supply. Out of the $31.3 billion Michigan spent on energy in 2009, $22.6 billion was sent to other states and countries for their energy resources.
This is an unacceptable waste of Michigan’s incredible manufacturing capacity. The manufacturing capacity is what built our state in the first place. That’s why Proposal 3 was endorsed by the United Auto Workers, whose president, Bob King said, “Proposal 3 will help put our state’s manufacturing talent to work, will help to preserve a healthy environment for Michigan citizens while reining in rising energy costs for businesses.”
Many people perceive renewable energy as a highly partisan concept, a pet project of the hippie tree-huggers on the left. However, even conservative business leaders like Steve Linder, president of the Republican consulting firm Sterling Corporation, support the initiative. As Linder pointed out in a May 2012 interview, “While we don’t like government mandates, this allows us to use manufacturing capacity in Michigan rather than bringing in $1.6 billion worth of coal from West Virginia and Pennsylvania.”
Since the bill was passed in 2008 to mandate 10 percent renewable energy by 2015 in the state legislature, there has been some confusion. Why is this new initiative, so similar to the last one, being voted on by the general population rather than by state representatives? This is because the political environment in Lansing has changed drastically since that time. In the past few years, the legislature has become increasingly partisan, making it harder and harder to get any bill passed, no matter how beneficial it is to Michigan’s economy, environment or public health.
That’s why we’re lucky that the reform is being brought up as a ballot proposal. Instead of relying on our legislators to listen to their constituents and come together to serve the common good, we’re able to show up at the voting booth and make that change happen for ourselves.
Mary Gallagher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.