Some renewable energy developers worry a Michigan ballot campaign could hurt the industry by reigniting a political debate around renewable energy.
Organizers are collecting signatures for a ballot initiative that would double Michigan’s renewable portfolio standard to 30 percent by 2020.
At least two out-of-state developers, as well as a Michigan trade group representing advanced energy companies, are neutral on the proposal because of the potential to re-politicize the industry and create siting issues as utilities comply.
“I’m worried this is going to make renewable energy a political issue again, and provide a political wedge with Democrats on one side and Republicans on the other side,” said Steve Caminati, senior manager for strategic engagement with Virginia-based Apex Clean Energy.
The political concerns come as more Michigan conservatives are expressing support for clean energy, though many also oppose raising the renewable energy standard.
At a recent energy conference in Lansing, Caminati and others raised concerns, too, about how the mandate could complicate project siting. “It’s going to be increasingly difficult to site projects around the state,” said Dave Shiflett, a project manager with Minnesota-based Geronimo Energy.
The Michigan Energy Innovation Business Council is also neutral on the proposal, as it was for a failed 2012 constitutional amendment that would have increased the state’s RPS to 25 percent by 2025. The group’s president said members fall on both sides of the issue, with many supportive but others more worried about political and siting issues.
“The industry has seen a lot of market opportunities due to decreasing costs and technology. I think they’re keeping their heads down and deploying through that path,” Liesl Eichler Clark said.
In 2016, Michigan lawmakers agreed to increase the state’s original 10 percent RPS to 15 percent by 2021. The Clean Energy, Healthy Michigan initiative would incrementally increase Michigan’s RPS to 18 percent by 2022 and 3 percent every two years after that. Utilities would not be able to charge the average residential customer more than $2 per month to recover costs.
Campaign manager John Freeman says the campaign is on track to gather the required 252,523 signatures by the end of May. The signatures would need to be certified by the state before the question appears on November ballots.
Freeman said policies promoting the industry should be bipartisan, and that out-of-state developers may be wary of “jumping into the fray” if they are seeking new business in Michigan. “What’s important is why they are coming to Michigan: Investing in renewable energy is a way of saving money and it’s a great economic development tool,” Freeman said.
When the campaign was announced in February, the plan brought swift opposition from the state’s two largest utilities, Consumers Energy and DTE Energy.
DTE Chairman and CEO Gerry Anderson recently told Daily Energy Insider the utility “has been in discussions” with initiative supporters to see if there is a “more constructive way to proceed” rather than a potentially high-powered political campaign. Anderson reportedly said he is “hopeful that it will resolve itself.”
DTE and Consumers did not provide more information for this story about those meetings or what the companies hope to achieve. Each provided statements saying the companies are already investing in renewables and reducing carbon emissions, and that Michigan’s 2016 energy laws will lead to more renewable energy development.
Freeman, who is also executive director of the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association, confirmed that the group has talked with utilities, but “nothing has been resolved. We’re doing our thing, utilities are more than welcome to talk to us.”
He declined to give more details about the discussions. The plan remains to let voters decide the issue, Freeman said.
“We’re just talking back and forth about how we can achieve more renewable energy in Michigan,” Freeman said of the discussions.