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Michiganders Need Renewable Energy Now

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message William McMullin     Permalink
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br /> We need to get to work on promoting clean energy. Clean energy is more sustainable and reliable than fossil fuels, requires the same daily planning for grid operators, and keeps energy prices stable.

Michigan predominantly gets its energy from coal and natural gas. Coal causes environmental harm from its mining to its burning. Pollution resulting from coal includes fly ash, bottom ash, mercury, and other harmful materials. The use of coal causes many negative health effects such as respiratory problems, asthma attacks, cancer, etc.  Coal is believed to shorten the lives of about 24,000 Americans a year ["Thousands of Early Deaths Tied to Emissions," June 9, 2004, nbcnews.com]. 

Hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" wastes exorbitant amounts of water from the Great Lakes and blasts chemicals into the environment and our drinking water. Michigan does not even require companies to disclose which chemicals they use. Fracking not only contaminates our groundwater, it also pollutes our air and causes surface contamination from spills. 

Michigan is already on track to achieve 10% of its energy from renewable sources by 2015. A recent report by Michigan's Public Service Commission concluded the state's utility companies could get 30% of energy from renewable sources economically and reliably by 2035 ["Michigan Can Triple Its Wind, Solar Energy Production by 2035, Report Finds," Detroit Free Press, September 20, 2013].  A study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory shows it is possible for renewable energy technology that we already have today to make up 80% of our electricity generation by 2050 [nrel.gov].

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While it's true the wind isn't always blowing and the sun isn't always shining, all forms of energy -- including fossil fuels and renewables -- poses challenges to the energy grid. The grid operators have to be able to switch to other or additional power plants at a moment's notice if there is a surge of power use, power outages, planned maintenance, etc. Renewable energy causes no more planning and spontaneous changes to the grid than coal or natural gas. In fact, renewable energy has its benefits. Coal-burning power plants are so large that they make the grid less flexible and more prone to cause blackouts when they do go offline. 

To further improve reliability of renewable energy, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), a federal agency that regulates the transmission and wholesale sale of energy, is working on new ways to manage the grid. For instance, using different sources of renewable energy over a larger geographic area creates better balance on the grid. If the sun isn't shining is one geographic area, it is in another. This can be achieved by upgrading our transmission lines to handle transmission over a greater geographic area. New lines would also increase energy transportation efficiency, allow the implementation of large scale use of renewables, and lower costs. 

Renewable energy is also financially beneficial to consumers. Renewable energy prices are steadily dropping while prices of dirty fuels are rising and are very volatile. Rate stability would be very much welcomed by consumers in this economy.

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Luckily, we as citizens can take action to promote renewable energy. We can contact our members of Congress to support the bipartisan Master Limited Partnerships Parity Act, which would give renewable energy companies the same low-cost financing and tax benefits that fossil fuel producers receive. If this passes, it would open the floodgate for private investment. We also need to ask Congress to extend the clean energy tax credits expiring at the end of the year.

We need to submit public comments to the EPA stating that we support the EPA's new proposed strong standards to reduce power plant carbon emissions. When writing to the EPA, mention docket EPA-HQ-OAR-2013-0495, and remind them about the importance of increasing renewable energy as a way to cut carbon pollution.

If we work together, we can make a clean, energy-secure future possible.

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William holds a BBA from Western Michigan University and a Master of Environmental Law and Policy from Vermont Law School. He is a delegate of the State Central Committee of the Michigan Democratic Party.

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