The Environment Report
9:00 am
Thu November 1, 2012

Proposal 3: How would we meet it? (Part 2)

You can listen to the Environment Report story above.

Proposal 3 would amend the state constitution and require utilities to get 25 percent of their electricity sales from renewable sources by the year 2025.

You may start noticing more solar arrays on land and tops of buildings, if Proposal 3 passes.

Take, for example, the American Waste garbage and recycling center near Traverse City, where two electricians were finishing up installation of a solar array on the property when I visited.

Consumers Energy will pay American Waste two times the amount the company typically pays for electricity. That electricity is fed straight into the state’s electrical grid, and it’s helping Consumers Energy meet Michigan’s current renewable energy standard of 10 percent by 2015.

Proposal 3 would bump that standard up to 25 percent by 2025.

Skip Pruss is a proponent of Proposal 3. He’s a principal for Five Lakes Energy. Pruss says the future for solar is bright because the cost to install solar is dropping fast.

“The United States Department of Energy has something called the Sun Shot Initiative, which is a strategic cost reduction initiative to reduce the cost of solar PVs, solar photovoltaics, to a dollar a watt by 2017.”

Pruss says that is half of what people pay per watt today. He says solar will continue to grow, but right now wind is leading the charge – when it comes to creating renewable energy in Michigan. Pruss estimates we’ll need about 2,000 more wind turbines to meet the 25 percent mandate.

But utility companies disagree. Roger Morgenstern is a spokesperson for Consumers Energy. He says Skipp Pruss’ estimate on the number of wind turbines is too low, by at least a thousand.

“Our concern is that it would be up to 3,100 wind turbines in almost every corner of the state to meet this type of a mandate. Because in Michigan from a renewable standpoint, wind is more plentiful than solar. Though neither are optimal in a Midwest state.”

But supporters of Proposal 3 say rapid advances in technology are driving the expansion of wind and solar across the United States. Again Skip Pruss:

“Siting windfarms are going to be a challenge. The best wind in Michigan is really in coastal areas. The good news is at higher heights and with improved technology. We now have technologies that can capture lower velocity winds. So that means we could deploy these wind farms in areas where we didn’t think it was economically efficient to do so.”

Pruss says they’re setting their sights on agricultural lands where there should be much less controversy than on the coast.

Still, residents in coastal communities are concerned about wind farms popping up along the lakes. So much so that some people in northern Michigan’s Benzie County have applied for permits to have a heliport on their land – with the hope it will stop a wind farm.

But that’s not the only thing that could challenge wind farm expansion. A lot of what’s made wind competitive is a federal tax credit.

Erick Lupher is with the Citizens Research Council of Michigan. He says a number of states are banking on that tax credit, including Michigan.

“These states have all created these 25-30 percent standards with the idea this infrastructure will be available and cost effective to put in the machinery needed to meet these standards. If tax credit isn’t there it changes the math in major ways."

The tax credit is set to expire at the end of the year, and it’s uncertain whether it will be extended.