Michigan’s insane 25×25 proposition: A postmortem

Why Michigan voters wisely rejected the crazy idea of 25% electricity from renewables by 2025

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The Michigan Energy-Michigan Jobs (MEMJ) Proposal 3 – its 25 by 25 gambit – would have forced Michigan taxpayers and ratepayers to produce 25 percent of the Wolverine State’s electricity via expensive, unreliable, parasitic wind and solar projects by 2025.

The misguided program has now been laid to rest by the wisdom of Michigan’s voters. What can we learn by autopsying its corpse?

This initiative was hardly local. It was driven by out-of-state pressure groups like the Sierra Club that were backed by the League of Conservation Voters, natural gas company Chesapeake Energy, and a number of deep-pocketed elites. MEMJ itself was funded largely by the Green Tech Action Fund of San Francisco; the Natural Resources Defense Fund of New York, whose president is multi-millionaire Frances Beinecke; and San Francisco hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer.

These carpetbagger activists placed a bull’s-eye on Michigan ratepayers with Proposal 3. Sierra Club was blunt: “If successful, the [Michigan] 25×25 initiative will send an important signal to the nation that public desire to move toward green energy remains strong.”

The grassroots activists who defeated this proposal had no billionaire largesse to draw upon. They were united under the Interstate Informed Citizen’s Coalition, a bipartisan renewable energy consumers watchdog group dependent on small contributions to support its work and committed to advancing sensible science-based energy policies and free market land use policies.

Compelled by the principle that industrial renewable energy schemes like Proposal 3 bring far more benefit to their invisible corporate cronies than to the environment, IICC members traveled the state on their own dime to speak out, protest, educate and inform. Their reward was sweet: they took their message of science-based energy policy to the people, who responded at the ballot box, soundly defeating Proposal 3 by 64-36 percent.

Using Sierra’s own test, Michigan ratepayers have shouted there is no such “public desire.”

In fact, there is widespread opposition to mandating forest-denuding biomass and massively expensive solar. But the hottest conflict focused on industrial wind. Michigan wind projects have lost at the ballot box virtually every time they have been put to the vote in a fair manner – and by similar margins.

At the township level, opposition to wind cronyism is just as strong. In Lenawee County, Riga Township rejected wind-friendly zoning by 64-36 percent. Two more Lenawee Townships followed suit. In Huron County, Lake Township removed a wind friendly ordinance by a similar 61-39 percent. And in Clinton County townships are intent on adopting police power regulations for wind energy installations, in defiance of too-permissive county level zoning.

This opposition is strongly bipartisan. Proposal 3 and its miles of wind turbines were opposed by both the free market Americans for Prosperity and Michael Moore movie producer Jeff Gibbs.

The ballot box evidence is clear. Michigan ratepayers from left to right are emphatic that there is no “desire” for mandated and subsidized industrial wind projects, in their backyard or anywhere in the State.

The push for Prop 3 also broke the big utilities’ code of silence on wind inefficacy. MEMJ unwittingly exposed CMS Energy’s duplicity on this issue – observing that CMS praised its new Ludington area wind plant for furnishing “reliable and affordable energy,” even as its public relations surrogate Care for Michigan was calling wind “expensive and unreliable.” Unfortunately for MEMJ, the Care for Michigan version was the truth.

Opponents of renewable energy have long pointed out that wind energy is parasitic – totally dependent on fossil fuels for backup power, with every megawatt of wind power supported by a megawatt of redundant coal or natural gas generating plants. So wind cannot possibly or meaningfully reduce emissions.

But the utilities stood silent. Their beloved existing 10 percent renewable mandate, PA295, restored their monopoly status and guaranteed them nice profits, in exchange for a small number of renewable projects. They were not interested in biting the legislative hand that was (and is) feeding them.

But Prop 3 brought all stick and no carrot for the utilities. They could no longer remain silent. Out came the truth. Wind cannot replace fossil fuel plants. Wind is not getting inexorably cheaper, but is far more expensive than current generation and, minus the huge hidden subsidies, more expensive than new coal. Wind cannot increase employment without costing employment in other industries that get stuck with soaring electricity bills. Wind energy cannot liberate us from foreign oil or from out-of-state coal imports.

What then did our autopsy discover? Michigan renewable energy mandates – including PA295 – are doomed. Because of gluttonous overreach, they will die by their own hand. Politicians need not fear public reprisal for opposing and repealing renewable energy mandates. It is now safe for lawmakers to acknowledge and act on the fact that renewables mandates like PA 295 are of no benefit to ratepayers, employers or employees, and are of dubious benefit to the environment.

Through the failure of Proposal 3, Michigan wind has been dissected and eviscerated by public opinion. The sooner our elected officials zip the death bag shut and send the corpse out for burial, the sooner Michigan can protect its rural areas from needless industrialization and our energy intensive industries from rising electricity costs that compromise their competitive edge.

Other states, and our federal government, should take note.

Kevon Martis is Senior Policy Analyst for the Interstate Informed Citizen’s Coalition (www.iiccusa.org) in Blissfield, Michigan.

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About the Author: Kevon Martis

Kevon Martis is Senior Policy Analyst for the Interstate Informed Citizen’s Coalition (www.iiccusa.org) in Blissfield, Michigan.

5 Comments
  1. Hugh McDiarmid

    Mr. Martin’s tale of the pure grassroots citizens rising up against the evil and moneyed carpetbaggers is compelling, but largely fiction.

    — The pro-Prop 3 campaign was outspent well in excess of 2:1 by Michigan’s utility companies, using more than $25 million in profits that otherwise might have helped ratepayers. Big Coal and the Enbridge Energy oil company — infamous for spilling spoiling the Kalamazoo River with oil — also pitched in.They blanketed every market in the state with misleading TV ads that the proponents could not hope to match. In the forums I attended, the anti-Prop 3 speakers were utility company spokespeople or hired guns from marketing firms.

    — The utilities opposition was fueled primarily by a regulatory structure that guarantees them a monopoly and a guaranteed 10% rate of return on capital investments. Coal plants are a much better profit center than cheaper wind farms many of which are built by private investors who sell the power to the utilities. They don’t want the competition from these private entities. They’d rather build new coal and natural gas plants and keep ALL the profits themselves. Prop 3 would have opened up more of the electric market to free market competition.

    – Exit polling showed that opposition was primarily driven by voters’ discomfort with embedding this energy policy in the state’s constitution, not for the most part by opposition to clean energy. That was also the primary reasons for the defeat of 4 other proposed constitutional amendments — all by strikingly similar margins.

    A few other factual nuggets inconvenient to this mythical narrative:

    — Wind energy in Michigan is already cheaper than new coal. The Public Service Commission reports wind contracts averaging in the $61 to $64/MWh range, versus new coal at $107 to $133. If the production tax credit expires for wind, it will add about $7/MWh to the cost. The coal costs do not include related health care and pollution damages that are not accounted for in rates.

    — Fossil fuel backup for wind is necessary, nowhere in the neighborhood of the 1:1 need cited by the author. It is a nominal cost, and has not been a significant issue in rates or reliability in states that are leading the nation in adding renewable energy to the grid.

    If Mr. Martin doesn’t want to looks at wind farms in his neighborhood there’s no reason he should have to. As he notes, many communities have opted against them. Others have welcomed their tax revenue, jobs and royalty payments to farmers and other landowners.

    • Eckenhuijsen Smit

      Equivocally you still favor windmills, although it is obvious and well documented that they have an effectivness of only 2 to 4 % (counting all costs of their construction, land use, habitat destruction, back up gasfired electricity plants and subsidies) while CO2 emissions are hardly influenced and certainly can not change the Climate or cause other havoc.
      As you should know, Climate is mainly influenced by our sun and by cosmic rays.
      The more CO2 would be expelled into the earth atmosphere the better would all green matter grow in favor of our food production!
      So revise your indoctrinated wrong ideas.

  2. Kevon Martis

    Mr. McDiarmid
    fails to mention that he is the Communications Director of the Michigan
    Environmental Council. MEC’s donor list has many commonalities with the groups
    I mentioned in my article, including the Energy Foundation. Tom Steyer is
    only one of their benefactors.

    The big utilities (no friends of the Interstate Informed
    Citizen’s Coalition) certainly spent many millions of dollars in this battle.
    But for Mr. McDiarmid to chastise them for defensive expenditures after
    courting out-of-state eco-industrialists to lead an all-out offensive against
    them is breathtaking in its hypocrisy.
    And to mention Enbridge Energy’s oil business with no mention of their
    1000MW of wind plant is likewise disingenuous.

    That the big utilities deployed their speakers to confront the
    Prop 3 juggernaut is certainly true. Yet I personally traveled the state and
    spoke to thousands of people in opposition to Prop 3 and only occasionally
    received donations that never covered mileage let alone the countless hours I
    spent away from my business and family. And though the utilities certainly had
    a large war chest, they are late comers to the business of truth-telling in the
    renewable energy arena. IICC members have been doing so far longer and typically in confrontation with rather than in support of the utilities.

    That the utilities have a 10% profit margin is true. But McDiarmid again fails to reveal is that rate of return is guaranteed by Michigan’s current 10% RPS. Governor Granholm negotiated terms with the utilities that reregulated their industry, guaranteed profits and protected their market share in exchange for generating 10% of their energy form renewable sources by 2015.

    Now about the costs. I had hoped this humiliating defeat of Prop 3 would bring
    an end to this nonsense about wind being cheaper than new coal. This bogus
    comparison is again a result of MI’s current 10% RPS, PA295. The fact that
    McDiarmid and PA295 continue to compare intermittent renewables with providers
    of firm capacity on an equalized cost basis flies in the face of the US EIA:

    “The duty cycle for intermittent renewable resources, wind and solar, is not operator
    controlled, but dependent on the weather or solar cycle (that is,
    sunrise/sunset) and so will not necessarily correspond to operator dispatched
    duty cycles. As a result, their levelized costs are not directly comparable to those for other technologies (even where the averageannual capacity factor may be similar)…”

    http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/pdf/electricity_generation.pdf

    Nonetheless, McDiarmid persist in this bogus comparison,
    and then fibs about the data. As of March, 2012, while there was a contract for
    wind in the low $60 range, later contracts are essentially $100.00 per MWh,
    nowhere near an average of $61-64. And the $7/MWh subsidy number is absurd. The
    Federal PTC is $22.00 per MWh with an after tax benefit of $34.00/MWh. If it
    were as small as McDiarmid posits, AWEA would have no need to mount such a
    monstrous effort to extend it by the end of this year. In fact, if wind is as
    cheap as contended here, one would wonder why there is any need for subsidies?
    And if one takes the capital costs of wind plants+O&M+interst and divides
    that number by the measured output of wind plants in MI over their projected
    lifetime, we know MI wind costs at least $120.00/MWh to produce and likely far
    more. The only way one can sell such an expensive product in the $60/MWh range
    is by getting the taxpayers to eat the loss. And they do.

    Regarding “backup” for wind…first, fossil can hardly be called backup when, from a demand perspective, fossil will always be furnishing the majority of the output. It is more accurate to say that wind energy serves primarily as an efficiency disruptor for steady state thermal plants, erratically inducing needless cycling thereby increasing costs to the operator and ratepayer while often increasing emissions.

    German grid operator EON Netz makes that clear:

    “Wind energy is only able to replace traditional power stations to a limited extent. Their
    dependence on the prevailing wind conditions means that wind power has a
    limited load factor even when technically available. It is not possible to
    guarantee its use for the continual cover of electricity consumption.
    Consequently, traditional power stations with capacities equal to 90% of the
    installed wind power capacity must be permanently online in order to guarantee
    power supply at all times”

    http://www.nerc.com/docs/pc/ivgtf/EON_Netz_Windreport2005_eng.pdf

    This is very near 1:1, as I stated. And in July and August,
    fossil will be furnishing 100%, or 1:1.

    And finally: “As he notes, many communities have opted against them. Others have welcomed their tax revenue, jobs and royalty payments to farmers and other landowners.” What the Prop 3 election result show is that opposition to a 25% mandate was much higher in communities that already have wind projects in place or are menaced with them, with some township being opposed 8:1. So I would agree: if you are considering a wind plant for your backyard, ask the man who owns one. They said NO in Michigan by huge margins.

  3. A HUGE congradulations to IICC, the citizens of Michigan and Kevon Martis. MN mandated 25 X 25 in 2007. The happy sounding but scientifically baseless idea has resulted in a fiasco in rural Minnesota. When you mandate an industry (wind); exempt them from all regulatory oversight; adopt Enron’s turbine siting standards from the early 1990s; feed sanitized pablum of rainbows, bubbles and unicorns to legislators and the urban masses; and then throw $ ten$ of billion$ of federal tax dollar$ out as an incentive for Wall Street banks and European owned developers, it should come as no surprise that you get the big sWINDle. Michigan voters – great job! Xcel – how about taking a page from the Michigan utilities recent play book? Get a spine, walk upright, and do something for the citizens and rate payers of MN for a change. We could really use your help reforming MN law at the capitol this coming session.

  4. NOBIRDSHREDDERS

    Over 1000 wind turbines ‘operating’ in the province of Ontario. There are many days when this is the output from wind. How many turbines will it take to get that up to 25%?

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