Michigan's insane 25x25 proposition: A postmortem
By Kevon Martis
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] 25x25 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 Prosperityand 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 Michiganwas 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 in Blissfield, Michigan.