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Polluting the Pure Michigan brand

The ill-advised Pure Michigan Right to Work advertisement is the latest in a string of questionable decisions that suggest the state and in particular, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) don’t understand the value of the brand they inherited.

The Pure Michigan brand is suffering a painful identity crisis. Why? Because there are two versions: first, there’s the Pure Michigan tourism promotional campaign, which has wisely expanded to spotlight both natural resources and great communities.

I’m a big supporter of that version because the ads remind what I love about Michigan—the places, the Great Lakes, the sense of our unique assets and place in the world.

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Michigan parks and the power of place: More than mere amenities

The Lansing State Journal ran a nice article yesterday (“Snyder weighs big changes for Michigan’s parks”) about the recommendations of the Michigan State Parks and Outdoor Recreation Blue Ribbon Panel.

During my year of work on that panel, one challenge really stood out: Michiganders, even those dedicated to outdoor issues, think of our parks and forests and beaches and rivers as amenities. They’re nice to have, but don’t rate as high as jobs or potholes on anyone’s list of top-tier issues.

That view is outdated, though. The world has shifted.

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A darn good reason for Michigan’s utilities to oppose Proposal 3′s 25×2025 clean energy standard (as long as you’re not a ratepayer)

Our state’s big utilities, Consumers Energy and DTE Energy, are spending millions to defeat Proposal 3’s 25×25 renewable energy standard even though they acknowledge renewables are creating jobs and providing homes and businesses with electricity at costs far cheaper than anticipated.


For DTE Energy – which still uses out-of-state coal to provide 70 percent of its electricity generation – a story in Detroit’s Metro Times reports a pretty darn good reason for the company to be threatened by cheaper, cleaner renewable power.

DTE is heavily invested in the coal business – shipping it, storing it, processing it and moving it across the nation.

Reports the Metro Times:

“…one of its many subsidiaries, DTE Coal Services, “is one of the largest marketers and transporters of coal to third-party customers in North America. They provide a broad range of coal sourcing, marketing, risk management, transportation, rail management and trading services nationally to coal producers, electric utilities, steel companies and other industries. DTE Coal Services is also active in trading coal, emissions and carbon in the financial and physical markets.”

And then there’s Midwest Energy Resources Co., which operates an “innovative rail-vessel trans-shipment system that handles much of the Great Lakes market for low-sulfur western coal.”

Also under the DTE umbrella is what’s known as a “reduced emission fuels” operation that treats coal so that it produces less pollution when burned. According to the company’s own estimates, that operation will generate $30 million in earnings this year and about $50 million a year beginning in 2013.”

So, what’s good for DTE’s profits and shareholders is a raw deal for lowly ratepayers.

In any other business we’d call that a conflict of interest.

In DTE’s world, it’s business as usual.




Prop 3′s ‘sky is falling’ report’s assumptions: Garbage in, garbage out

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy issued another doomsday report recently, claiming that achieving Proposal 3’s 25% renewable electricity goal by 2025 would unleash economic Armageddon on our fair state, increasing bills hundreds of dollars annually.

The report follows a real analysis conducted by experts in energy and utility regulation that we released two weeks ago. That study says that moving to 25% clean energy would cost the average residential ratepayer 50 cents a month at the outset, and save them money in later years.

Those are two very different conclusions.

For guidance, you might read a third, independent report – the Michigan Public Service Commission’s most recent analysis. It found the cost of renewable electricity coming online in Michigan right now is far below comparable costs for more dirty, unsustainable coal power.

Additionally, it found that wind energy costs were dropping steadily, while the cost of coal delivered to Michigan jumped 71 percent in just the last four years.

So it seems like simple math would suggest that buying the cheaper power (wind energy) would cost you less than buying the expensive power from coal.

An examination of the Mackinac Center’s report explains the discrepancy.

A key assumption in the Mackinac Center report is the cost of wind energy. Wind energy will supply the lion’s share of the additional renewable energy we would need between 2015 and 2025 to reach the goals established in Proposal 3.

The Mackinac Center report is grounded in the wild and baseless contention that wind energy costs will somehow skyrocket to up to 4.5 times higher than the current signed wind contracts in Michigan.

As the Union of Concerned Scientists put it in its analysis of the Mackinac Center study:

The Mackinac Center analysis “… assumes levelized energy costs for wind that range from $149/MWh to $288/MWh in 2010. These costs are 1.5 to 3 times higher than the average cost of wind contracts in Michigan from 2009 to 2011 ($94/MWh) and as much as 4.5 times higher than the state’s most recent signed wind contracts ($61-$64/MWh), according to the Michigan Public Service Commission. (emphasis theirs)

 “ …The use of indefensibly high wind cost assumptions extends through 2025 in both the average and high cost cases.”

Or, in plain English, the Mackinac Center report’s key assumption is garbage.

You can read the Scientists’ analysis and the back-and-forth between the Mackinac Center and the UCS analysis’ author and decide for yourself.



Deceptive, dishonest: Exactly what Cravenly Against Renewable Energy group* paid for

Public Sector Consultants and Ken Sikkema should know better.

Their report making the rounds today, “Proposal 3: Key questions and answers,” was commissioned by the utility-backed anti-renewable energy ballot proposal group CARE. That stands for “Cravenly Against Renewable Energy*.” (*Not their name, but close). Anyway, those folks really got their money’s worth.

The report compares the cost of existing electricity generation from our aging power plants to the cost of new generation from renewable sources. Apples and oranges.

The conclusion – no surprise – is that power from fully depreciated half-century old power plants is less expensive than modern, new generation. Then they run to the press to generate headlines like “Coal power cheaper than renewable.”

It’s dishonest, deceptive and disingenuous. And it lacks alliteration.

It’s like comparing your 200,000-mile paid-off clunker to a new vehicle – and concluding that the beater is the best deal because you’ll have car payments with the new model.

Ignore the fact that the clunker is dangerously unreliable, leaks oil, lacks acceleration, is fuel-inefficient, spews pollution and is in the shop half the time. That mirrors the kind of power plant fleet we have – 50, 60-year-old plants that are among the oldest and most polluting in the nation. Many are slated to come off line in coming years anyway, and we need to replace their generating capacity.

With what?

The proper, apples-to-apples comparison is the cost of new renewable energy systems to new traditional electricity generation. CARE and the guns for hire at Public Sector won’t talk about that, because renewable energy is already significantly less expensive than new coal – as thoroughly explained in the most recent Michigan Public Service Commission analysis.

And while the price of renewable energy in Michigan is dropping dramatically, the cost of coal delivered to Michigan has increased more than 70 percent in four years. That’s a problem, because coal supplies 60 percent of our electric power, but requires us to send $1.5 billion every year to other states to import it.

You won’t find that in the Public Sector Consultants report. Because you only get what you pay for.



Clean Energy Roadshow a tangible tour of Michigan’s progress

The founders of MiGrid asked me a few months back to come on their inaugural “Michigan Clean Energy Roadshow,” a week-long road trip to 25-plus clean energy installations across Michigan.

The point of the Roadshow was to capture images and tell the story of clean energy systems and advocates in Michigan. Since I love Michigan, I love clean energy, and I think one of the MiGrid guys is really cute – of course I said yes! So I packed up and hit the road with the MiGrid team this past weekend. Here are my trip highlights, from a Michigan girl’s point of view: Read more

We’ve got until Friday to tell MDOT: Focus on maintaining existing roads, improving public transportation, nonmotorized options!!

Less of this, please!

Public comment is being accepted through this Friday, Aug. 31, on the Michigan Department of Transportation’s (MDOT) 2035 Long-Range Transportation Plan.

The current draft plan largely ignores the public’s demand for more transit and pedestrian options.  Instead, its heavy focus on roads ensures we’ll be driving even more in 2035 than we do now, in spite of increasingly volatile gas prices, our aging population, and a younger generation that’s seeking other ways to get around.

We urge you to put your name to this petition which urges MDOT to revise the plan to focus more on public transportation options and less on increasing motor vehicle travel and highway expansions. Read more

Election Day loser: Gov. Snyder weakens landmark sand dune protections

No matter how your favored candidates did in yesterday’s primary, we all lost at the end of the day when Governor Snyder signed legislation that cripples protections for Michigan’s most fragile sand dunes.

These important safeguards have been in place since the 1980s, when the Critical Dunes Act was created in bipartisan fashion by political leaders who understood the value of these globally rare and ecologically rich natural treasures.  Since then, coastal landowners have built in a responsible way that takes into account sensitive ecosystems and the stunning scenery that makes Michigan’s dunes a huge tourist draw.

As we wrote back in May, these changes to the Critical Dunes Act make it much easier for developers to harm the dunes with slapdash construction of new driveways and structures.  The new law also makes it harder for citizens and local governments to have a say in protecting dunes in their community.  And it turns the burden of proof on its head, forcing the state to demonstrate that a project would harm the dunes, rather than requiring developers to prove that new construction wouldn’t cause damage. Read more

No Olympic bikinis? News scribe’s latest jaw dropper cites Global Freezing

Detroit News editorial board member Henry Payne suggests this week that cool temperatures to start the London Olympics (“Global freezing” he calls it) will be a real downer for “media disciples of the Green Church…” who “have been frightening Michigan and the U.S. with tales of global warming-induced drought.”

The same writer invoked the visage of Nazis – those who tortured and massacred millions — in his column about Germany’s renewable energy program titled, “Sieg Heil, warmingmongers” last year. He warned darkly of coming “civil unrest” and “grim war” in the United States because of President Obama’s “radical green vision.”

He’s also the genius who wrote that, because of snowfall in Dallas last year, “global warming” had been “debunked on the grandest stage of all: The Super Bowl.”

Of course, 2011 turned out to be the ninth warmest year on record globally, and the 35th consecutive year that global average temperatures were above 20th century average. Nine of the 10 warmest years on record (dating back to 1880) have been since 2000.

What’s more, a colder Europe in the short-term is consistent with climate models for reasons that have to do with altered ocean currents and melting Arctic sea ice.

But Payne and his colleagues in the News editorial tower have little use for sources like NASA or the World Meteorological Association. Instead, Yahoo! Sports is his source: “It might be too cold for the beach volleyball players to wear bikinis at the Olympics,” he quotes Yahoo.

Detroit News readers deserve better.



Facts, not hysteria, on the cost of renewable energy in Michigan

There was a flurry of media attention last week when the Michigan Energy, Michigan Jobs coalition turned in 530,000 petition signatures Friday. If approved, the group’s ballot initiative will allow voters to decide whether to require the state’s electric utilities to generate 25 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025.

Many of the reader comments under the stories complained bitterly that the plan would force expensive electricity on customers.

“Watch your utility bills go up and up and up,” predicted a Detroit News commenter.

“…an example of an extreme group of tree huggers wanting to suck more money out of our wallets” wrote another.

“Liberal enviro nut jobs want Michigan residents to vote to raise their electric and gas bills by 33 percent” wrote a Detroit Free Press critic.

The hysteria wasn’t confined to newspaper readers. The head of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce launched a Twitter misinformation crusade, tweeting that the plan “would raise electric rates by 25%” and warning darkly of power shortages and vast landscapes barren of all but solar panels.

So let’s get clear on the actual cost of renewable energy in Michigan rather than the talking points of opponents:

  •   According to the Michigan Public Service Commission’s 2012 analysis, the average cost of wind energy in Michigan is $94.27/MWh (recent contracts not yet factored into the average are in the $64/MWh range, which will drive this figure even lower)
  •  -Cost of electricity from a new coal plant is $107/MWh (utilities’ estimate) or $133/MWh (Public Service Commission’s number).  Says the PSC:  “…the cost of energy generated by renewable sources continues to decline, and is cheaper than new coal-fired generation.” Read more