The Michigan Climate Action Network recently called for the state to work toward a 100 percent renewable energy system by 2050. This aligns with the aim of the climate science if we want to stave off total climate disruption by the end of the century. San Diego is aiming to meet that by 2035, San Jose by 2022, and San Francisco by 2020. Aspen, Colo., Burlington, Vt., Ithaca, N.Y., and Greensburg, Kan. have already done it. Our own Grand Rapids has a goal of 100 percent by 2020.
Meanwhile, back at the state Capitol, our utility big boys have been spending millions to steer us away from renewable energy. They now are poised to put a stake through the heart of the state’s already met mini-Renewable Energy Standard that they lobbied hard against in 2012. The pending bill, SB 438, removes any legal requirement to meet any standard, leaving it to the capricious market (which they largely control) to determine what should be accomplished. Who cares about the climate or the lost opportunity we are throwing under the bus? How interesting that the city in this state doing the best economically is doing the most with renewable energy. According to a report earlier this year from the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, our friends at DTE and Consumers spent millions in 2015 coddling the Legislature to redirect policy in their antiquated direction, $361,242 by DTE and $311,117 by Consumers Energy. In addition, DTE made $307,170 in political contributions and CMS Energy, the parent company of Consumers Energy, $240,400. And of course, this all pales in light of the dark money behind the $2.5 million spent by Citizens for Michigan’s Energy Future, which isn't required to disclose donors but is suspected to be funded by energy utilities, on broadcast TV ads that aired in 2015. The likely biggest benefactors of this largess? According to the Campaign Finance Network: “Gov. Rick Snyder, whose nonprofit and administrative account received $50,000 from Consumers; House Energy Chair Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton), who received $25,900; and House Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Mt. Pleasant), who received $21,000. But, overall, the House Republican Campaign Committee received the most from the groups at $58,250” (MCFN).
Lest we forget, that meager 10 percent Renewable Energy Standard that we set back in 2012, met this year, was fought tooth and claw by these same energy behemoths, who spent $24 million to defeat it.
I am not optimistic that, given this cast of characters, we will see anything like a reasonable energy policy coming from this legislature or governor, who seem to see everything through some narrowly constricted short-term financial bottom line. So why should we wait? Let’s celebrate and support those enterprises, whether they be companies, nonprofits, municipalities or colleges, that are aggressively investing in a renewable energy future while simultaneously reducing their overall energy footprint. What local enterprises are doing major upgrades to energy conservation and efficiency? Which are putting solar to use? How many are being transparent in the process? We see that those enterprises that openly pursue a triple-bottom-line balance sheet — what Austrian economist Christian Felber calls a Common Good Balance Sheet — are successful. The growing movement of funds into socially responsible business funds and those funds’ performance, coupled with the commitment of more and more global investors to adhere to the Principles of Responsible Investing, denotes more than a passing trend.
What is being conceived should be powered entirely by renewable energy or else not be built. As I see new buildings going up, I wonder if we can expect that they will have rooftop solar?
Based on my own household’s investment in solar power, the DTE/Consumers 2012 futile expenditure to fight renewable energy could have powered an additional 1,600 homes for 20+ years. Let’s hear who the renewable energy leaders in this community are. Maybe City Pulse can feature them weekly as they do the Eye Candy of the Week. Meanwhile, contact your legislator and governor and let them know we need a real Renewable Energy Standard for our times — 100 percent by 2050. Let’s get starting now.
(Terry Link, the founding director of the Office of Sustainability at MSU, is a consultant.)