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Citizens, Dems Push ‘ReEnergize Michigan’ Jobs Bill

Coalition: Stronger green mandates, incentives are keys to national leadership

August 5, 2009 | By Jim Dulzo
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

  State Representative Dan Scripps announced ambitious new green legislative goals that are strongly supported by the ReEnergize Michigan coalition.
TRAVERSE CITY—A week after launching a campaign for new legislation that could dramatically boost clean-energy jobs in Michigan, citizen groups and state lawmakers leading the ReEnergize Michigan coalition are urging the Legislature to act quickly on their proposals.

In press conferences around the state last week, including one hosted near here by State Representative Dan Scripps (D-Northport), the coalition of 39 groups and at least 23 Democratic state representatives said that their proposals would accelerate the growth of renewable energy and energy efficiency jobs in Michigan by using mandates and incentives to expand the state’s own market for such technology.

But they also pointed out that other states are well ahead of Michigan in building a green economy, thanks to the mandates and incentives their governments have already enacted. So, they said, it behooves Michigan lawmakers to act quickly.

ReEnergize Michigan proponents said that their 11-bill package, now being introduced in the state House, would both save businesses and residents money by increasing their energy efficiency, and add tens of thousands of new manufacturing, distribution, and installation jobs to the state’s budding green economy—one of the few bright spots in the state with the nation’s highest unemployment rate, 15.2 percent.

Beside Representative Scripps, the bills have picked up initial support from state Representatives Vicki Barnett, Timothy Bledsoe, Pam Byrnes, Marie Donigan, Fred Durhal, Lee Gonzales, Jennifer Haase, Harold Haugh, Mike Huckleberry, Bert Johnson, Deb Kennedy, Lesia Liss, Mark Meadows, Tim Melton, David Nathan, Sarah Roberts, Mike Simpson, Dian Slavens, Jon Switalski, Mary Valentine, Rebekah Warren, and Jimmy Womack.

All are Democrats; many of them participated in last Monday’s chain of eight press conferences, which stretched from Traverse City to Detroit to near Grand Rapids.

Where the Action Is
The coalition’s proposals arrive in Lansing in the wake of a new state study that finds vigorous job growth in Michigan’s green industries, particularly those related to energy. Coalition members say their proposals would build on that small but growing momentum by expanding the groundbreaking state energy legislation Lansing enacted last October.

Those laws ordered utilities to draw at least 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources like wind turbines and solar panels by 2015, and help their customers reduce their electricity demand by 1 percent a year.

ReEnergize Michigan’s proposals would dramatically increase those numbers to accelerate the state’s move toward renewable energy and energy efficiency—widely acknowledged as the essential, twin pillars of a 21st-century clean-energy economy.

The coalition’s new proposals would push the renewable energy mandate up to 30 percent by 2025, double efficiency gains to 2 percent a year, bring much stricter energy standards to the state’s outdated building code, and require utilities to pay premium rates, also known as “feed-in tariffs,” for power generated by “energy entrepreneurs”—customers who install solar panels, wind turbines, and other renewable generators at their homes or businesses.

The bills would also offer better protection against utility shutoffs when customers do not pay their electricity bills.

Strong Endorsements for Stronger Policies
At his press conference, state Representative Scripps pointed out that Michigan has the natural and built resources to lead the United States’ shift to a clean-energy economy. Those include ample manufacturing facilities, a skilled work force, research universities, ample wind and sunshine, and a huge potential “in state” market for home-, business-, and industrial-scale green technologies.

But despite those advantages, Mr. Scripps said, Michigan still does not have rules and incentives strong enough to compete effectively with other states that have very pro-green policies. He said that Michigan’s future national and even global leadership in clean energy now hangs on whether the state greatly improves its own green consumer and industrial policies.

The state representative said that the package he and his fellow Democrats are rolling out in Lansing with the support of ReEnergize Michigan members would do that, and establish the state as a leader in clean energy mandates and incentives.

On hand to endorse Mr. Scripps’s bills were officials from the local, municipal electric utility; the local community college; one of the region’s largest employers and energy users; and the ReEnergize Michigan campaign.

Ed Rice, executive director of Traverse City Light & Power, said his firm endorses the package and pointed out that it reinforces clean-energy policies that his utility has already adopted.

Marguerite Cotto, vice president for lifelong and professional learning at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City, said that her school looks forward not only to training students in the jobs skills that the bills will popularize, but also to educating the larger community on both the importance and money-saving potential of cleaner, more efficient electricity.

Jim MacInnes, a managing partner at Crystal Mountain Resort, a ski and golfing destination that is the largest employer in adjacent Benzie County, said he liked the plan’s comprehensive scope, the steps it takes toward national energy independence, its jobs potential for Michigan, and its ability to help people and businesses save energy dollars.

Jim Dulzo, managing editor at the Michigan Land Use Institute, spoke on behalf of ReEnergize Michigan, and asked residents to tell lawmakers that quick action on the bills was urgently needed so that Michigan could catch up with the rest of the country and then, as it did during its World War II Arsenal of Democracy days, help make world history.

Jim Dulzo is the Michigan Land Use Institute’s managing editor, and coordinates its coal and clean energy program. Reach him at jimdulzo@mlui.org.

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