Commentary: Renewable energy is key for Michigan’s economy

Ardelia Lee, a Detroit-based freelance writer, wrote this commentary on behalf of Greenlancer, a solar power consultant.

In 2008, the State of Michigan passed Public Act 295, also called the Clean, Renewable, and Efficient Energy Act. This act established a renewable electricity standard (RES) that requires electricity providers in Michigan to use renewable energy for 10 percent of the state’s electricity needs until 2015. Public Act 295 has enjoyed great success since its implementation. However, the future of the RES is now uncertain.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder wants to see between 30 and 40 percent of the state’s energy needs met by a combination of energy efficiency and renewable energy. His fellow Republicans, however, want to either leave the RES where it is or dissolve it altogether. As 2016 approaches, the Michigan legislature will have to decide what to do about the state’s renewable energy.

Michigan has several choices when it comes to renewable energy. The best option is to continue the RES and raise the percentage of renewable energy in the electricity mix. Michigan has enough renewable resources to expand its renewable energy industry. Doing so would provide much-needed economic benefits.

The state has enough renewable resources to expand its renewable energy industry. In terms of wind energy, Michigan has the potential to produce over 500,000 GWh of electricity annually. That doesn’t include the amount of GWh the state could produce using offshore wind from the Great Lakes. As far as solar energy is concerned, Michigan has the potential to replace 71 percent of its annual electricity demand with rooftop and utility PV systems.

The economic benefit of increasing the RES to 32.5 percent by 2030 would help Michigan’s economy in several ways. It would bring about $9.5 billion in new capital investments to Michigan. By 2030, renewable energy facilities would pay $570 million in operation and maintenance payments to the economy. It’s estimated that the land lease payments for renewable facilities would amount to $21 million. That’s a lot of money that Michigan could bring in by capitalizing on resources it already has.

In addition to bringing money into Michigan, the state could help ensure that it reduces the amount of money that leaves it. In 2012, Michigan spent almost $1.2 billion paying for imported coal from Wyoming and Montana. In 2014, Michigan used coal for 50 percent of its net electricity generation. If Michigan increases the RES, it will be able to keep more money in the state and reduce its dependence on imported coal.

With industry growth comes an increase in industry employment. Right now, Michigan’s renewable energy sector employs 76,000 workers. As the renewable energy sector grows, its best option is to sources its parts from local Michigan manufacturers. This would add about 21,000 jobs in manufacturing by 2020.

Michigan’s manufacturing history and economy make it a perfect candidate for renewable energy growth. For the first time in years, Michigan’s unemployment rate has finally drawn level with the nation’s unemployment rate of 5.5 percent. Expanding the state’s renewable energy sector can be a valuable economic stimulant. Renewable energy is the future, and it has the potential to revolutionize Michigan’s energy and economy.

Ardelia Lee, a Detroit-based freelance writer, wrote this commentary on behalf of Greenlancer, a solar power consultant.

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