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Clean Energy Standard Talk of Michigan Fair

Annual Manistee fair attracts thousands to renewal vision

June 26, 2007 |
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

  The House debate and the Michigan Energy Fair come as rising energy prices and global climate change emerge as top public priorities

ONEKAMA – A legislative proposal to sharply increase the level of energy produced from renewable sources attracted significant attention among suppliers of clean energy, who exhibited their products at the Michigan Energy Fair here last weekend.

Of special concern to the clean energy vendors was whether the state House Committee on Energy and Technology, chaired by Democratic state Representative Frank Accavitti Jr. of Eastpointe, will approve a measure that would prompt Michigan to generate 10 percent of the state’s energy by 2015, and 25 percent by 2025 from wind, solar, hydroelectric and any other renewable source.

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The House Committee is expected to approve the bill, perhaps this week, and the full House is expected to pass the measure next week. The bill, however, faces opposition in the Republican-controlled state Senate. And Democratic Governor Jennifer M. Granholm, who supports the concept, differs however in how aggressive the overall measure should be. Twenty-six states have adopted renewable energy portfolio standards.

Clean Energy Time Has Come
The House debate and the Michigan Energy Fair come as rising energy prices and global climate change emerge as top public priorities. In Washington, the U.S. Senate just approved a new energy bill that calls for higher fuel mileage standards, increases in subsidies for ethanol production, tax credits, other government support for more oil production, and no new incentives for renewable energy or conservation.

But here in northern Michigan, where renewable and clean energy companies convened their second annual energy fair, the talk of the event, which attracted 3,000 visitors over three days, was centralized around the renewable bill which could help move Michigan closer to the forefront of the emerging clean energy industry.

The Michigan energy fair, which attracted 120 vendors and an assortment of new energy technology, was especially intriguing to young people, who turned out in large numbers. In interviews, young people said they were concerned about continuing down a path that ignores cleaner sources of energy.

R. J. Shepard, for instance, attended the fair to help with his family’s Fireside Hearth and Leisure, which sells environmentally friendly fireplaces and stoves. He told visitors that, "After I finish school, I want to go into renewable energy. It’s where the money will be."

More At The Fair
Mitchell Dumond, 20 and Ryan McCourt, 22, both college students from Owosso, Mich. drove three hours to come to the fair. They said that even though renewable energy may be challenging to embrace right now, it is the future and they want to be ready. Mr. McCourt, who is studying architecture at University of Michigan, hopes to design environmentally sensitive, energy efficient buildings after he graduates.

AJ Tissier, Tony Battaglia, and James Kristoff, all juniors at Illinois State University were at the fair showing off a solar-powered car they had helped design and build. The car, which can reach speeds of 67 mph, was one of only 18 to complete the 2005 North American Solar Challenge, in which contestants traveled from Austin, Texas to Calgary, Alberta in ten days.

Mr. Battaglia, a physics major who plans to go to law school, commented on the state of energy policy in the United States. "It’s very weak at best," he said. "The efforts being made are minute. Oil is a natural resource that we are not going to have forever. It’s sad. People don’t understand the risk of not searching for something new."

This year’s energy fair was larger and more diverse than the first last year. The number of vendors doubled, and the number of visitors increased by 20 percent to roughly 3,000 over three days, said fair organizers. "It’s really cool. It’s great to see all of this," said Jamie Weitzel, deputy policy director of the Michigan Environmental Council in Lansing, who attended.

Whether that enthusiasm translates into new clean energy legislation is not at all clear.

Accavitti’s Big Move
Rep. Accavitti’s Renewable Energy Standard legislation represents a significant move within the state House and at the grassroots to promote clean energy in Michigan, said Mr. Accavitti’s aides. The RES proposal would require the state to generate 10 percent of its energy from renewable resources by 2015, with the goal of reaching 25 percent by 2025.

The bi-partisan legislation is expected to be approved by the House this week, but its fate in the state Senate, where Republican lawmakers lie in wait, is not certain. The chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy Policy and Public Utilities, Republican Senator Bruce Patterson, has made no public comments about the legislation and has made no effort to bring the bill to a vote.

If the bill makes it through both the House and the Senate, it would have far-reaching consequences for Michigan. By requiring the state to acquire 10 percent of energy needs from renewable resources, it would allow the government to invest in the environment, in the economy of Michigan, and in local jobs.

Renewable resources, such as solar, wind, and hydroelectric power are all sources of clean energy — fuel that causes much less harm to the environment. Along with being environmentally-friendly, another benefit is that they are home-grown.

Currently, Michigan must import nearly all of its energy — 100 percent of the coal and uranium, 96 percent of the oil, and 75 percent of all natural gas, according to state agencies. By investing in renewable energy produced within the state, the government would be investing in Michigan, say proponents.

The home grown source is important in another regard, as well. According to Environment Michigan and the Pacific Northwest Laboratory, Michigan ranks second in the Great Lakes region for wind energy potential and 14th in the United States. If fully harnessed, wind energy could create over 50,000 manufacturing jobs in the state of Michigan.

Michigan produces lots of wind and lots of energy. Last weekend, visitors to the Michigan Energy Fair felt both blowing all day long.

Leah Burcat, a student at Haverford College, is reporting and writing on the Michigan Land Use Institute’s news desk this summer. This is her first article for the Great Lakes Bulletin News Service. Reach her at leah@mlui.org

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