AS SHOES CONTINUE TO drop on the issues surrounding the renewable energy legislation recently written in Lansing, local officials remain split, yet steadfast, in both support and opposition to the controversial bills.
In case you missed it… and it seems these days many of us are more interested in our football teams than energy legislation, simply put, the state has come up with new rules which demand power companies, like our own Board of Light and Power, to generate certain percentages of power using renewable resources by certain dates.
According to our 109th District Representative Jenn Hill, who supported the legislation, “This is the third time that Michigan has set clean energy goals. In 2008, the goal was 10% renewable energy. In 2016, having met that goal, it was increased to 15%. We met that goal in 2021. Now we are looking out 16 years, to say that our power would be 100% clean by 2040. I would bet that the energy law is reviewed again, in 2030 or so, to revise goals and ways to achieve cleaner, more affordable power.”
Is Hill saying there may be some wiggle room down the road? It sounds like it, and others have suggested the same, but although flexibility sounds good, it also creates uncertainty for energy providers. The BLP doesn’t make their production investments with tomorrow in mind. They’re looking much further down the road, and in the eyes of those responsible for that kind of planning, 16 years isn’t much further away than tomorrow.
Local Officials Speaking Up
In speaking with people on both sides of the issue, and listening to comments at various meetings, it appears many of our elected officials, and those who hope to become so, agree we need to move towards renewable energy, like wind, solar, hydro, and nuclear. The question becomes, “how fast,” and specifically in the U.P, “how?”
Though the renewable energy production targets were approved for statewide implementation on an entirely partisan basis with D’s in favor and R’s opposed, some local Democrats aren’t convinced of the legislation’s feasibility.
Randy Girard, who boasts years of public service and has recently announced his candidacy as a Democrat for the 109th House District representative post, questions the process as well as the plan. “It was apparent at the recent public meeting that the BLP had not been consulted about impact before the vote was taken. I do believe that the U.P. generally will be hard pressed to meet the legislated requirements without significant fiscal impacts.”
Paul Schloegel, who recently served on the BLP board and is currently a Marquette City Commissioner, also questions the process. “We all agree that wind, hydro, and solar need to be major players in the future. The unfortunate aspect is the legislation is vague and rushed.”
Joe Boogren, who currently serves as Forsyth Township Supervisor, is unequivocal in his opposition. “As a moderate/centrist elected Democrat, I find it reprehensible that our (D) Governor and our (D) State Representative have both acted to eliminate locally elected officials implementing the wishes of their constituents and controlling local zoning. This is an unambiguous attack on the vote of EVERY citizen in the State of Michigan.”
The “local zoning” reference is about how Michigan’s appointed 3-person Public Service Commission can apparently have the final say on where solar and wind facilities are to be placed, regardless of the sentiments of local officials and established zoning regulations. Though many laws and regulations have to be statewide in nature, there are times when a one-size-fits-all decree doesn’t actually fit all. Putting a lower peninsula slipper on an upper peninsula foot could be a very uncomfortable, and costly, fit.
The placement of windmills and solar panels is just one element of the legislation that concerns opponents. At the Board of Light and Power’s last meeting, board chairman John Prince noted it wasn’t long ago when the board made the decision to move from coal to natural gas and effectively address the carbon emission issue. And now, just 7 or so years later… long before the current system reaches end-of-life status, they’re being asked to invest in the next big thing, and at what cost? Good luck finding a buyer for our gently used natural gas engines.
Plenty of Support Too
Of course, the legislation is not without its supporters, not just in Lansing but locally as well. Marquette County Democratic Party Chairman Tony Tollefson has confidence that adhering to the legislation is well within the capabilities of our BLP. “It is slightly astounding how quickly our world is evolving in technology. Those in leadership at the Marquette BLP made decisions based upon available information at the time those decisions were made. While initially there may be higher costs due to investment, effectiveness and operational savings come over time. With proper planning there is greater potential for consistent cost-effective energy generation and usage.”
No argument here with that. But questions remain regarding those “higher costs.” What folks here are already spending on utilities is pushing many to the limit. Lowering carbon emissions is a worthwhile goal, but tell that to a young family or a retired senior struggling to keep the cupboard full with boxes of store brand Macaroni and Cheese.
Democrat Bob Lorinser, who’s running again to unseat Republican Jack Bergman from the 1st District U.S. House of Representatives, also supports the legislation. “Michigan Democrats like me believe the laws set ambitious, achievable clean energy goals, address climate change, create quality union jobs, and reduce energy prices. I am cautiously optimistic Michigan, the Great Lakes region, and our planet will benefit from the passage of these new laws.”
Again, no argument. And maybe the only way to get things done is to push them beyond our perceived limitations.
This whole energy generation thing is way too complicated to explain in its entirety here, and frankly above my pay grade. There are options like “carbon capture” and “renewable energy credits,” as well as buying power off the grid, that can come into play. But they won’t get providers off the hook for the initial investment required in a move to renewables.
Politics Plays a Part
It should be pointed out that Boogren ran and lost to Hill in the last election and Girard has her in his sights in next August’s primary, so it looks like there’s some same-side-of-the-aisle politics going on. But that shouldn’t distract from facts on the ground. Unfortunately, facts often get blurred by interpretations and opinions. It will be up to voters to decipher the politi-speak, as well as do a little research, before they pull the lever on the candidate they feel will best serve their interests.
It should also be noted that the job Jenn Hill is trying to do as she represents us in Lansing looks a lot easier from 400 miles away. Just like we often think our team’s best quarterback is the one standing on the sideline, until he actually has to run the offense. In other words, Hill’s the one in the game, with a somewhat different perspective than ours.
Okay… I guess I’m thinking about football too.
Not a Done Deal?
Apparently there are already lawsuits in the works in an effort to halt the legislation from going forward. And there are studies yet to be concluded as well as the natural evolution of bills as they wend their way through the capitol. So what they look like today may be quite different from their final versions.
In the meantime, we’ll be keeping an eye on how this plays out. Through it all, maybe we’ll see some bipartisan agreement on the future of energy legislation in Michigan. And maybe we’ll come up with an affordable energy source that falls in line with our commitment to the environment.
Bipartisan or not, the decisions made on the path forward will have profound and long-lasting implications. In other words, we literally can’t afford to screw this up.