Politics & Government
9:14 am
Thu October 25, 2012

Commentary: The renewable energy amendment

I suspect some people are having a harder time deciding how to vote on the renewable energy amendment -- Proposal 3 -- than on any of the other five proposals on this year’s ballot.

The others are pretty straightforward. Either you think the emergency manager law is necessary, or you don’t.  Either you think collective bargaining should be a constitutional right, or you don’t.

If you don’t think the state constitution should call for the state to maintain a list of unionized home health care aides, you won’t like Proposal 4. Proposal 5 would effectively ban the legislature from raising taxes or changing the way the tax system works.

Proposal 6 would enshrine one billionaire‘s right to keep his monopoly, even if totally against the public interest.

I didn’t have a hard time with any of those. But Proposal 3 is something else again. It would require electric utilities to provide at least 25 percent of their annual retail sales of energy from renewable sources by 2025. Hence the name, “25 by 25.“  It spells out what renewable sources are:

Wind, solar, biomass and hydropower.  The utilities are already required to produce 10 percent of their energy that way by 2015.  Naturally, they don’t like a steeper mandate.

They are also ready with a long list of reasons why they don’t want this. They say the standard would be hard to achieve. They say it would cost consumers too much.

They say we don’t want the land cluttered with windmill farms, and say it is outrageous to amend the constitution to require companies to do their business in a specific way.

Those supporting this say it will create jobs, and that we are better off spending to construct a forest full of windmills than we would be building new coal-fired plants. Coal pollutes. There isn’t any coal in Michigan, and some day, our nation and the world will run out.

So, how do you decide how to vote? Well, you can watch the TV commercials, which, as the Michigan Truth Squad has noted, both sides stretch the truth. Or you could go to Michigan Radio’s website, to read a fine, neutral summary of the arguments for and against Proposal 3, complied by researcher Jordan Wyant.  

However you vote, one thing you should do regardless is actually read the amendment itself.  Here are some aspects that helped me in my decision.

No. 1, there are a couple escape hatches. The amendment would “limit to not

more than one percent per year … rate increases changed to consumers to meet the renewable energy standard.” If this isn’t feasible, the amendment would “allow annual extensions of the deadline.”

There’s something else, too. Even if you, like me, would have preferred seeing this done as an ordinary law, not placed in the constitution, this is in fact a temporary constitutional amendment.

It expires 13 years from now, and places no conditions on the world beyond 2025.  Finally, there is this:

The world is going to run out of fossil fuel. Do we really want to wait until the last minute to figure out what to do about it?

Or do we take a step towards the future now? I know what sounds pretty responsible to me.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.