Clean Energy Push: How Will It Affect You?

By: Tony Tagliavia Email
By: Tony Tagliavia Email

Some lawmakers say it's time for Michigan to get less of its electricity from coal and more from dams, windmills -- even landfills.

"I would like to see Michigan follow the lead of 21 states and the Distrct in Columbia that have adopted renewable energy standards," State Sen. Jim Barcia (D-Bay City) told News 10.

From the federal government to the state Capitol, most everyone agrees coal will continue to be Michigan's biggest electricity source.

But Barcia is pushing a plan to force energy companies to get at least a fifth of their energy from renewable sources by the year 2020.

"It's an ambitous standard but it's something we believe we can achieve," he said.

Local energy companies say they're already moving from coal to more renewable technologies. But since it's expensive and the state can build only so many windmills and dams, they say mandating more renewables could lead to higher electricity rates.

"It's a fact of life in any industry: if your prices go up, at some point that's going to be passed on to customers," said Mark Nixon, communications director for the Lansing Board of Water and Light.

Nixon says the utility pays more to buy renewable energy. So he says BWL's plan to get 7 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2016 is more reasonable.

Dan Bishop of Consumers Energy says that company has a green energy plan of its own as well: Ten percent renewable by 2015.

Both don't quite make the standard proposed in the Senate.

"Twenty percent is probably a bit too ambitious," Bishop said. An even higher standard is proposed in the House.

The local utilities say their case that renewable is costlier is underscored by their respective programs that allow individual customers to opt to use clean energy at a higher rate.

But Barcia says other states haven't seen higher rates after going through mandates similar to the one he's proposing. And although there's no real sense of when such a mandate could be passed, but he says he thinks a compromise can be reached.

"We're flexible," Barcia said. "And we're open."

That's something utilities are hoping for as well. Nixon says BWL is optimistic but realistic about the future.

"This country and this utility industry is capable of doing great things," he said. "We just have to stretch ourselves."


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