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Plugged In: With Prop. 3, Who Really CARES for Michigan?

Utilities spend big on opposition campaign

Plugged In, Proposal 3, Power to Change | October 23, 2012 | By Jim Dulzo

Plugged In

Jim DulzoPlugged In is the energy-related blog of Jim Dulzo, MLUI's senior energy policy specialist. You can harass him at jimdulzo@mlui.org.


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We made a big boo-boo while vacationing recently—we watched the news on the only TV station we get at our cabin, and were mugged by this commercial against Proposal 3, a/k/a the “Michigan Energy Michigan Jobs” proposal. 

Have you seen this thing? There’s a spinning wind turbine, a doomy voice, and a meter rocketing from zero to $12 billion in 30 seconds flat—all to scare anyone who uses electricity.

Turns out it was paid for by a group called CAREforMichigan. What does CARE stand for? Why, Clean Affordable Renewable Energy, of course.

As Amy Poehler often said on Saturday Night Live, “Really?!?”

Amy and I agree: CARE must actually stand for Companies Against Renewable Energy.

Why else would their spot so totally trash an iconic machine that makes…um, well…Clean, Affordable, Renewable Energy?

Here’s why: The main companies behind the spot are DTE Energy and Consumers Energy, who are quite happy to tuck reminders into their customers’ bills about all the good things they are doing with renewables, including wind power, in Michigan: good jobs, avoided emissions, money for farmers and local communities. But they avoid mentioning that one reason they’re into renewables is because of a law passed in 2008, requiring 10 percent renewables from them by 2015—something they are clearly on course to do.

But here they are, spending nearly six million of their customers’ dollars to tell us that renewables are, well, kinda bad.

These guys think they can get away with stuff like this because they’ve been big, utterly powerful monopolies ever since the day they were born…and are selling something we can’t do without. Given human nature, that can lead to a my-way-or-the-highway attitude.

I know: They contend with a public service commission that makes sure they play fair on electric rates.

But that doesn’t stop them from saying anything they like in public; it’s not like we can take our business elsewhere. We can complain in writing to them about their misleading ad, and maybe get a nice note back, but we still have to send them our money every month.

So, here’s where we are: DTE and Consumers annually spend millions lobbying state lawmakers and financing their campaigns. Back in 2008, they used that massive, clout and alarming cost claims to make sure the Legislature made our renewables mandate among the weakest in the Midwest.

A few years go by, their “high cost of renewables” claims turn out to be wrong (Consumers cuts its renewables surcharge from $2.50 to $.52, for example), but lawmakers still refuse to revisit and up the mandate to pull even with our most ambitious Midwestern neighbors.

So, this summer, a half-million people flex their democracy muscles and sign petitions saying they would like to vote on that without lobbyists getting in the way.

The response from the Companies Against Renewable Energy? Why, form a misnamed front group and spend millions on a misleading TV ad.

Polls show Michiganders think that reaching 25 percent renewables by 2025 is a good idea, but scary spots are taking their toll.

Hopefully, most ‘ganders are smart cookies: Once they see Prop. 3’s goal is already business as usual in quite a few states, and is five points less and 13 years later than the goal Wyandotte Municipal Services will likely accomplish this year—30 percent by 2012—they will ignore the scare tactics and support it.

If you want the facts and figures on cost and all the rest, the Michigan Energy Michigan Jobs Web site does a tip-top job demonstrating just how hollow CARE’s objections to Prop. 3 are. Hopefully you’ll read the darn thing and apply common sense.

We’ve just posted a news article (not a highly opinionated blog like this!) by yours truly that looks at what’s happening in three states already doing their own 25 x 25 (or stronger) thing—and having a fine time, thanks to smart ballots or foresighted lawmakers.

Meanwhile, it’s time to strike up the band for Prop. 3!

First, please sign MLUI’s online petition so people know you get that renewables make the most economic and environmental sense, and that Michigan would be a fool to miss out on this global phenomenon.

Next, when you see CARE’s bogus ad, don’t curse your TV; given the Lions this season, your tube is already destined for abuse. Instead, how about a letter to your local paper about all that stuff Companies Against Renewable Energy are puttin’ down?

Then, forward this link to pals who are worried about cost (Did you know Prop. 3 caps renewables-driven rate increases at 1 percent annually? The utilities don’t ever bring that up.)

And forward it to friends who have issues with the Michigan Constitution’s ability to survive voter amendments. (It has survived 33 of ‘em since it was rewritten in 1963.)

Finally—avoid your TV until Nov. 7; get up off your couch; and get involved, dear friends! Democracy is not a spectator sport, although Companies Against Renewable Energy probably want you to think so, and might just be counting on you to act like it.

Jim Dulzo is the Michigan Land Use Institute’s senior energy policy specialist. Send your delighted affirmations and dark denunciations directly to him at jimdulzo@mlui.org.


4235 days ago, 3:14pm | by Richard Kooyman | Report Comment

CARE doesn't mentioning the 1% cap on rate increases because it is a talking point of MI Energy, Mi Jobs. But just because it's their talking point doesn't mean it's really true. Just like the 94,000 new jobs figure that is thrown around. It's just a talking point number that consumers have no idea is true or not.
If Prop 3 passes you will still have to buy your electricity from who you buy it from now. And if they show the Public Service Commission that they can't make the 25% mandate with a 1% a year rate cap they will go to court and have it changed. It's a meaningless ploy used by Prop 3 proponents to calm voters.
This Proposal has plenty of bogus ad's coming from both sides of the fence.

4234 days ago, 4:09pm | by Jim Dulzo | Report Comment

Actually Richard, if you read the ballot language you'll see that it's not just a talking point, it's actually part of the proposed law. If a company can't keep up the required pace and stay at or below 1 percent, their goals are extended in time. So, no court case unless the utility is obviously blowing smoke about their pokey pace and can't convince the MPSC otherwise.

4229 days ago, 9:20am | by richard Kooyman | Report Comment

My point was more to the question if they can't stay at or below the 1%. The mandate gives 1% as the easy to swallow number for rate increases to pay for the renewable investment. What happens in 2-3 years if the public utilities say they can't do it for 1%? Answer = they will get to change the rate.

4228 days ago, 10:27am | by tom karas | Report Comment

Richard, you got to pay attention and do a little relevant research. The easiest thing that blows up the whole 'clean energy is too expensive' cry is the case of Consumers Power decreasing their renewable energy surcharge from something like $2.50 per month to .87. And this was for a program that they designed with their favorite politicians.
I take your individual concerns to be more about trying to defend your positions about the looming destruction if clean energy is brought on line in competitive amounts. The vast amount of evidence is on the side of clean energy as the best strategic plan for the long term, for all of us. You seem more intent on defending your personal position than fairly considering the facts.

4227 days ago, 7:34am | by richard Kooyman | Report Comment

Tom, I've done nothing but want to come to a better understanding of the facts. But it's hard to do when both sides of the argument are deeply involved in political posturing. The current coal industry and Michigan's utilities use of coal is indefensible. It's a path that we cannot continue on. But the 'wind industry' or 'renewable energy' or 'clean energy' side has also been guilty of confusing the issue. What will it actually cost? How many jobs will it truthfully create? What are the problems associate with having to build 3100 industrial sized wind turbines in particular areas of the state?
We all know coal is bad but when it comes to getting the answers to questions the wind industry says to just trust us. Who is "us"? Why should consumers give Duke Energy a free pass to do what they need to do so they can make money for their investors?
We need a state wide energy plan that includes renewables. Prop 3 is no plan. It's a free market free for all so another corporation can harvest the energy that blows around us and sell it back to us for a profit.

4222 days ago, 1:32am | by Ron O | Report Comment

Who says coal use is indefensible? We've got 200 years worth of coal and who knows how much natural gas - it would be criminal to buy foreign oil instead of using every last ton of domestic coal.

Here's my problem with Prop 3 ( and its earlier, passed version at 10% ) and every other subsidy - if the item being subsidized was READY for the market, then private industry would bring it to the market. Wind is not viable for Michigan and never will be. It's an eyesore, and environment and aesthetic nightmare and like the elusive rainbow farting unicorn its won't ever be what its proponents WANT it to be.

The 1% cap is a joke - it's only 1% on the ENERGY GENERATED BY THE RENEWABLE SOURCE. There is NOTHING to prevent a utility from going to the MPSC and raising rates to offset true generation costs on the remaining 75% that's generated conventionally.

The 10% isn't in the Constitution, and the 25% shouldn't be either.

NO on 3 !

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