opinion: Proposal 3 requires unrealistic changes to existing clean energy mandate
I stand with the 4,000 members of the Michigan Utility Workers union who oppose Proposal 3, which would constitutionally require utilities to go well beyond an already existing clean energy mandate for our state, a proposal funded with a lot of out-of-state money whose backers stand to benefit from alternative energy providers.
One of the canards used by Proposal 3 backers is that Michigan's major utilities -- CMS Energy (previously known as Consumers Power) and DTE Energy -- import coal from out of state. Well, yes, as do most utility companies in this nation that don't have coal-producing states as their locale.
But as a former employee of, and now a retiree of, CMS Energy I can speak from my experience in the media relations and employee communications department how hard Consumers Power has worked to provide some of its electricity generation through alternative energy sources. Case in point: groundwater pumps in semi-rural or rural locations, which use the constant temperature of ground water to provide air-conditioning in the summer and heat in the winter, were actively encouraged by Consumers Power.
Second case in point, for more than at least the last three decades, CMS Energy has provided customer service representatives with engineering experience to businesses and industries to help them reduce electricity costs through conservation, which is the best" green power" there is. Third case in point: CMS Energy has supported windmill technology at every point in its evolution and development, even experimenting at one time in the 1980s with a windmill along Lake Michigan to test its cost relevancy and its ability to keep producing power even in the extreme climate and wind conditions of Michigan's western shore.
I was surprised that former Gov. William Milliken recently came out in support of Proposal 3, even though that is consistent with his environmentally positive record as governor. I'm sure he remembers that during his tenure as governor he promoted the use of renewable resources to power a electricity-generating plant by CMS Energy. He rightly wanted to use waste lumber — like broken pallets — and dead or dying trees from Michigan's sometimes too-thick forests as fuel rather than coal in a new, small plant. Of 10 or 15 possible Michigan cities where such a plant could be sited, Hersey (near Reed City in Osceola County) was deemed the best location. But no plant was ever built there, or elsewhere, because the proposal met opposition from manufacturers and vendors of the wood stove industry, who saw the potential for wood supplies being diminished; the Pileated Woodpecker Society, which saw a threat to the bird from a reduction in the number of dead or dying trees in their Michigan habitat; and most significantly, from NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) residents of Hersey and other possible sites because of their dislike of thousands of trips by log-bearing trucks traveling up and down the roads near their communities.
Former Gov. Milliken and other in-state backers of Proposal 3 are correct that reducing the use of fossil fuels is a good way for Michigan to go. I doubt whether any of us disagree with that. But Michigan in 2008 passed a well crafted and carefully considered law to require CMS Energy and DTE Energy to achieve 10 percent of their electricity generation from renewable resources by 2015, and both utilities are well along that path. The law received support from many sources — regulators, customers and utilities. In 2015, the Michigan Public Utitilites Commission, utilities and groups representing residential and industrial customers can review where generation and costs are and move another step along that path toward green power.
But to lock Michigan into a position by constitutional amendment at this time seems premature and unnecessary. That's why thoughtful voters of this state might do well to stand with the 4,000 men and women who work in all kinds of weather to keep our lights on and our homes heated. Their livelihood depends on sound energy policy, not a proposal funded primarily by out-of-state energy providers such as a hedge-fund billionaire in California.
Bob A. Wischmeyer