March 13 2013 12:00 AM

New MSU research suggests renewable energy ballot initiative will be a two-fer: clean air and more jobs

FRIDAY, Aug. 10 — Twenty-five times 25 equals 625, which is less than .01 percent of the number of jobs Michigan State University researchers say would be created under a successful proposed statewide ballot initiative.

The “Michigan Energy Michigan Jobs” initiative, commonly referred to as 25 by 25, will ask voters Nov. 6 to require utilities in the state to generate 25 percent of electricity with renewable sources by 2025.

A new 24-page report by MSU, commissioned by the Michigan Environmental Council, says the initiative — if approved — would create at least 74,495 jobs and spur $10.3 billion in investment. Nearly 43,000 of those would be in operations and management of renewable energy facilities — commercial and small-scale wind projects, solar photovoltaics, anaerobic digesters, landfill gas and biomass — and over 31,000 construction jobs.

The proposal would be a “tremendous boost to Michigan’s economy,” said MEC’s president, Chris Kolb, who served six years as a state representative from Ann Arbor. “Make no mistake: This is a job creating machine.”

Results of the latest studies are modeled between the years 2016 and 2030 and factor in a 16 percent increase in energy demand, said Charles McKeown, a researcher in the MSU Department of Agriculture, Food and Resource Economics.

The sector predicted to have the most significant economic impact is commercial scale wind farms, he said, because at this point it’s the cheapest and “easiest to employ.”

However, the job growth projections are entirely dependent on manufacturers’ ability to “capture market share,” or adapt their businesses to make renewable energy products, such as the bolts holding together a wind turbine, McKeown said. He added that it will take $10.3 billion in investment from utilities, private developers and ratepayers to reach the 25 percent by 2025 goal.

A 2008 statewide renewable energy standard mandated 10 percent of electricity be generated by renewable sources by 2015. Since then, McKeown said the manufacturing sector has had “successes and setbacks” in adapting to the renewables sector.

Doug Jester, a principal at the renewable energy consulting firm 5 Lakes Energy, said about 235 companies in the state manufacture components for renewable energy, “Mostly in the diversification of their existing business.”

The job projections are calculated as the “employment of one person for one year of time,” and McKeown said it’s uncertain what that will mean for the number of jobs over time.

Major utilities and Attorney General Bill Schuette are some of those lining up against the 25 by 25 proposal. Schuette has called it an “end run” around a constitutional provision allowing the Legislature to set energy policy and says such policies shouldn’t be enshrined in the state constitution.

The confusingly titled Clean Affordable Renewable Energy coalition — a statewide group that includes labor and business groups and utilities — opposes the 25 by 25 plan, but supports the 2008 policy of 10 percent renewable energy by 2015. It opposes the plan in part because it suggests on its website that “Michigan families and businesses will be footing the bill for years to come” to pay for renewable energy.

However, proponents point to the ballot language that says the new energy standards “shall not cause rates charged by electricity providers to increase by more than 1 percent in any year,” as a way to protect consumers. Moreover, a February report by the Michigan Public Service Commission analyzing the effects of 10 percent by 2015 standard shows that the cost per megawatt hour for wind, anaerobic digester and biomass is less than coal.

As for jobs, the MPSC report states: “A benefit of the additional investment, manufacturing, installation, administration and development of clean and renewable energy has been job creation.”