You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Fri, Sep 7, 2012 : 1:48 p.m.

Ann Arbor SPARK forum on initiative to use renewable energy sources both 'civil and informational'

By Ben Freed

Attendees of a forum at Ann Arbor SPARK on Thursday were treated to a wonky and informative policy debate about the “25 by 25” ballot initiative.

If approved, the measure would amend the state’s constitution to mandate an energy policy that 25 percent of Michigan’s electricity would be generated by renewable energy sources by 2025.


Dimitri said development of new technologies, like DTE's smart meters show here, happens all the time and could be hindered by the ballot measure.

Melanie Maxwell I

With all of the political maneuvering, television advertisements, and legal holdups over which ballot measures will be voted on during the elections in November, many felt the event was refreshing.

“I thought it was a good event, and I thought the speakers were both informative and civil,” Charles Griffith said.

“Of course, I happen to think the ‘pro’ side won all of the arguments.”

Griffith, director of the Ecology Center’s climate and energy program, had already made up his mind about the initiative before he came to the event, but he said it was good to hear both sides to have a better understanding of the issue.

Douglas Jester, the research director for the campaign advocating the measure, spoke first and made the case that the proposal is practical, it would decrease cost for consumers, increase jobs, and improve public health. He also said the measure was necessary for Michigan’s economy.

“Our current energy model is heavily reliant on coal, and we import that coal,” he said.

“That means we send our money elsewhere, we call that burning money to produce energy. That’s money out of Michigan’s economy. There certainly are jobs at the power plants… but a lot of the money is lost to fuel and we send that out of state.”

Jester said that Michigan currently is fourth in the country in solar energy jobs and first in clean energy patents, but wind energy was the future for the state. According to maps he presented, more than half of Michigan’s land is suitable for wind farms with windmills 100 meters high.

“Public perception tends to lag the realities when it comes to the cost of renewable energy,” he said.

“At the time the current standards were adopted we thought renewable energy would be more expensive than it is now.”

The current standard he referred to is Public Act 295 which mandates 10 percent renewable energy usage by 2015. DTE Energy executive director of energy efficiency and renewables Irene Dimitry said that while her company supported that legislation, they were not in favor of the new ballot measure.

“We [DTE] absolutely support renewable energy,” she said. “We just don’t think this is the time or the way to talk about renewable requirements. Michigan’s current framework is working. It’s driving billions of dollars into the state.”

Dimitry said the wording of the ballot initiative is too vague, and it actually could hinder technological developments by limiting what is considered “renewable.”

“If we get locked in [by this measure] we’ll be on a forced march trying to get there [to 25 percent],” she said.

“We won’t be able to make adjustments and be flexible.”

Both speakers had plenty of numbers in their presentations, and for the most part they matched up fairly closely. However, Dimitry accused supporters of the measure of inflating the number of jobs that would be created as a direct result of the amendment, while Jester insisted that estimations that costs would go up were inaccurate.

“We think that this [the measure] begins to mitigate rate increases that have been occurring and will occur,” he said. “And somewhere out in the 2020 range we project we will actually start to see bills that are lower than they otherwise would have been.”

The amendment has a 1 percent rate cap in place in case Jester’s projections prove to be wrong, but Dimitry said that cap simply would extend the time frame past 2025 — not save consumers money.

The panel also included Bruce Goodman, an alternative and conventional energy lawyer, who spoke first to lay out Michigan’s current energy policy, introduce the proposal, and explain what would happen practically if the measure was passed.

Goodman said Michigan’s utility companies operate under the regulatory compact that gives them a monopoly in exchange for being regulated by the state and agreeing to serve everyone in their service territory. Part of the agreement is that costs of energy purchases can only be passed through to the consumer without markup. The utilities make profit by building new products or plants and asking permission from the Michigan Public Service Commission to raise rates to collect a return on their investment.

This system means DTE and Consumers Energy, who also have taken a stand against the measure, would be able to profit off any new renewable energy plants they build, but not on renewable energy they buy from other private companies.

Ben Freed covers business for Reach him at 734-623-2528 or email him at Follow him on twitter @BFreedinA2



Sun, Sep 9, 2012 : 1:16 p.m.

Based on numbers from the Midwest Independent System Operator on the percent of the time that wind turbines make power - we would need to build about 6 times the capacity of wind turbines we would for a natural gas plant. Then we would need to store the energy from when the wind turbines did work (when the wind did not blow too fast or too slow). Ludington has a wonderful Pumped Storage facility that already saves us lots on our bill, but it would need to be 3 or 4 times bigger to store the wind energy that we need to store. Finally we don't just need to move wind and solar energy by a few hours a day, if you look at the annual curve for output, we need to move some of that energy by several weeks. So anyone got a couple of valleys we can dam and pump water into or a few million Chevy Volts we can charge and park in the parking deck at Metro for a month or two charged until we need the power?


Sat, Sep 8, 2012 : 8:26 p.m.

Round-up the eco-nuts and burn them to generate electricity. There are probably enough in the Ann Arbor area alone to power the city for a year or two. Solves two problems at once!


Sat, Sep 8, 2012 : 2:14 p.m.

I fully support deploying renewable energy projects, such as rebuilding the hydroelectric turbines in our dams, solar voltaic roof arrays, passive solar, and wind turbines on scales from household to HUGE wherever they make economic sense. So far, most utility level renewable energy projects do not make economic sense. Intermittent power sources, such as solar and wind, also require additional generation capacity and significant investment to improve the power grid in order to provide 24 / 7 electric power to homes and businesses. That means paying 2-3X for the same amount of power capacity. There is NO way to deploy utility scale solar or wind power without a significant increase in energy costs, using any technology now available or under development as a product. It may be possible to shift some of that cost increase to the taxpayers at large rather than utility customers, as was done in Germany across the last decade. Germany's taxpayers recently revolted against this burden. New solar power installations will not receive the subsidy, so very few are now being made. Nor did Germany see big growth in their domestic green energy industry, due to cheap solar panels from China. Not to mention it makes NO sense to include details of utility regulations in the state constitution as this proposal does. If this increased renewable energy standard was such a good idea, why can't the proponents get one or more of our state legislators to either amend Public Act 295 or pass a new law to create the new standard? Or even recruit our nerdy governor to their cause? Perhaps it's because the Governerd and the rest of we techies know that the costs are being deliberately understated, the benefits are severely inflated, and the method this group is using is the wrong way to regulate public utilities. Let the legislature and the Public Utilities Commission do their jobs.

Rod Anderson

Sat, Sep 8, 2012 : 1:54 p.m.

Did Mr. Jester really say, ",,. and we import our coal." I guess he means from outside Michigan, otherwise, he makes no sense (instead of very little). Apparently it's SPARK's position that we don't want to "import" goods into Michigan. Guess that means we don't want to export anything, either. No, wait....

Alan Goldsmith

Sat, Sep 8, 2012 : 1:17 p.m.

"More PR smoke and mirrors from SPARK. How about releasing your audits? How about pressuring SPARK to do that. Nope; kid gloves and re-printing of SPARK PR fluff from And DTE gets off easy. Dollars talk". The readers have been waiting for the past three years for this sort of investigative journalism. Don't hold your breath.

Steve Hendel

Sat, Sep 8, 2012 : 12:10 p.m.

This sounds like "mission creep" for SPARK. Whatever one thinks of the ballot proposal, it seems to me that SPARK is anxiously looking for things to do. I would like to see some hard and unbiased proof of their accomplishments, and not just from organizations that have 'cashed their checks.'


Sat, Sep 8, 2012 : 11:08 a.m.

If you want to see what the future of renewable energy in Michigan looks like, drive over to mason county between Pentwater and Ludington. They are installing 56 wind turbines each 476 feet tall, spaced a minimum of 1800 feet apart. It's an amazing sight.

Dog Guy

Sat, Sep 8, 2012 : 2:04 a.m.

The "25 by 25" ballot initiative does not take into account that pixie dust does not work in the rain and is therefore not an appropriate renewable energy source for Michigan's climate.


Fri, Sep 7, 2012 : 11:01 p.m.

More PR smoke and mirrors from SPARK. How about releasing your audits? How about pressuring SPARK to do that. Nope; kid gloves and re-printing of SPARK PR fluff from And DTE gets off easy. Dollars talk.

Steve Craig

Fri, Sep 7, 2012 : 10:17 p.m.

Anyone can watch a video of the panel discussion at the Michigan Energy Forum website.


Sat, Sep 8, 2012 : 2:16 p.m.

Thanks Steve.


Fri, Sep 7, 2012 : 8:05 p.m.

"….decrease cost for consumers, increase jobs, and improve public health. He also said the measure was necessary for Michigan's economy…." This is unsupportable nonsense. At a time when gas is $4.25 a gallon this group is all for high price energy!! The basic question remains unasked: Why should Michigan waste billions on expensive boutique energy sources we do not need? There are two real answers: The primary reason is that the eco zombies think that if Michigan home owners and businesses PAY A FORTUNE FOR ENERGY and can no longer afford to heat and cool their homes/businesses, the earth will get colder. The secondary reason is the dirty little secret in the room - that everyone who spoke in support of it is profiting from this scam. Take a poll and you will find that most people have very specific reasons for their support: PROFIT. Who is ignored during this "Forum"? Those who don't think Michigan residents writing their monthly utility checks who don't think they control the planet's weather and simply want the lowest cost power available for Michigan. Further – what is AA Spark doing supporting a fringe activist group that pretends to host discussions when all they really are is eco nut lobbyists who could not care less if the state collapses under the weight of wasted tax dollars propping up their eco schemes. How long has this little party been going on in AA?? ..certainly looks like something left over from some mess Granhom cooked up.


Fri, Sep 7, 2012 : 7:49 p.m.

"Attendees of a forum at Ann Arbor SPARK on Thursday were treated to a WONKY and informative policy debate about the "25 by 25" ballot initiative." "Wonky"? Gonna ave to look that one up........


Fri, Sep 7, 2012 : 10:10 p.m.

A "wonk" is usually a knowledgeable enthusiast about a given topic.

Ben Freed

Fri, Sep 7, 2012 : 8:22 p.m.

While historically (and in England) wonky tends to mean "unstable" or "shaky" it has recently come to be used when describing serious policy discussions that are heavy on numbers and statistics, especially in American politics. Example: Headline from The Atlantic's online wire: "With Paul Ryan in the Race, Prepare For Some Very Wonky Mud-Slinging"