Researchers say Michigan needs to develop clean energy

WASHINGTON, D.C. - By conserving energy and relying more on renewable energy sources such as wind and sunshine, Michigan could create 6,800 jobs, cut consumers' energy bills by $2.2 billion, and reduce pollution including global warming emissions by 30 percent over the next 14 years, according to a report released recently by the Environment Michigan Research and Policy Center.

"This is an investment decision," said Mike Shriberg, one of the report's authors. "We can either invest in our home-grown clean energy sources or continue to invest in energy imports that drain our economy."

The report offers an alternative to other proposals being weighed to help the state meet its growing energy needs, including building a new coal-fired or nuclear plant.

But critics of wind, solar and similar "green" sources of energy say they produce energy inconsistently and in quantities that are too small to be depended on to power homes and businesses.

"The question is at what cost? The technology is there, but all of these renewables have very high costs to produce energy," said Diane Katz, an energy analyst at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a free-market research and education institute.

Katz also pointed out that renewables pose their own threats to the environment. Windmills, for example, kill huge numbers of birds, take up about 2.5 acres of land each, and destroy scenic vistas through the power lines that connect wind farms to power grids.

"I'm not saying the tradeoffs aren't worth it. But we have to recognize there is an environmental impact to these as well," Katz added.

The environmentalists' report says that renewable sources of energy not only could fully supply the state's energy needs but could also help it turn around economically from its manufacturing crisis.

"Michigan has a huge strategic reserve of untapped energy in the form of energy efficiency and renewable energy," Shriberg says. "Wind clearly has the highest potential of the renewable energy sources."

Currently, Michigan has three commercial wind turbines, which produce far less than 1 percent of the state's total energy consumption.

Solar produces even less. Of the state's total energy output, only 3 percent comes from renewables, and most of that is from hydropower (dammed rivers), switch grass and similar organic matter that is burned to produce electricity, and methane emitted as garbage rots at landfills.

The group says that the state currently spends more than $18 billion annually to import fuel.

But, by tapping into the state's historic manufacturing strengths, that money drain could be turned into a money generator if the state encouraged production of windmill and solar panel parts, for example, and eventually sells its excess electricity to others states.

"On-shore wind energy, biomass and solar energy could together produce the equivalent of more than two-thirds as much electricity as Michigan currently uses," claims the report, titled "Energizing Michigan's Economy," which can be read at

"The potential of off-shore wind energy alone far exceeds Michigan's current electricity needs. Tapping into just a fraction of this potential, Michigan could launch a new industry and become a regional leader in renewable energy use and clean energy technology manufacturing."

The report urges Michigan to:

Stop the growth in demand for energy through energy efficiency. Steps urged include requiring utility companies to set up a fund to educate homeowners and businesses and give them money incentives to, for example, switch to energy-efficient light bulbs; updating building codes to prevent energy leaks; and setting higher appliance efficiency standards.

Require utility companies to generate one-quarter of their electricity from in-state renewable sources of energy by 2025.

Reject proposed new coal-fired or nuclear power plants.

Other ideas include the proposal by the Public Service Commission for more conservation and use of renewable energy sources while continuing to rely heavily on traditional electricity generators.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm is calling for the state to move more toward renewables. She wants 10 percent of the state's energy to come from renewables by 2015 and 20 percent by 2025.

In addition, Detroit Edison is considering building either a new coal-fired or nuclear power plant.

Last week, the utility, which serves 2.2 million electric customers in southeastern Michigan, announced that is starting the five-year application process required to build a nuclear plant. The utility stresses that it hasn't committed to building one, however.

"Certainly renewables and energy efficiency are part of the mix," said Scott Simons of Detroit Edison. "But future demand for electricity will necessitate building a new base-load power plant. Renewables won't be able to meet the expected demand."


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