Cory Connolly

Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline Fellow

Recent Posts by Cory Connolly

  • The Michigan Clean Energy Roadshow: Success Stories Pave the Road for a Clean Energy Future

    Sep 12, 2012Cory Connolly

    Michigan, once the industrial capital of the United States, has the opportunity to create jobs and economic opportunity while paving the way forward for a clean energy future. 

    Michigan, once the industrial capital of the United States, has the opportunity to create jobs and economic opportunity while paving the way forward for a clean energy future. 

    In 2008, the state of Michigan made a commitment to clean energy, to the environment, to economic opportunity, and – most of all – to people. Public Act 295, passed in 2008, set the framework for the development of Michigan’s clean energy economy by establishing a renewable portfolio standard (RPS). A renewable portfolio standard (also called a renewable electric standard or clean energy standard) mandates that electric providers generate a certain percentage of electricity from renewable resources by a set date. For Michigan’s RPS, the percentage was 10 percent and the date was 2015. A renewable portfolio standard is the most popular strategy for promoting the development of clean energy sources like wind, solar, and hydro in the United States today. There are 28 other state-level renewable portfolio standards in the U.S. with varying goals and timelines.

    At the federal level, in 2011, President Obama called for a “clean energy standard” of 80 percent by 2035 and a similar act called the “Clean Energy Standard Act” was proposed this past spring in the Senate. This past week at the Democratic National Convention, the Democratic Party endorsed such a standard as well. Global investment reached $263 billion in 2011, and is expected to continue to grow. A national RPS or clean energy standard has the potential to make the United States a leader in the global clean energy market, and Michigan has the potential to lead this charge. 

    In Michigan, the adoption of an RPS has caused a significant uptake in clean energy installations and investment in the industry. Since 2008, Michigan has installed over 1,200 megawatts of new generating capacity – that’s enough power to run 240,000 homes. While the numbers are exciting, in Michigan the clean energy economy is about more than just numbers and figures – it’s about the people and the opportunities behind clean energy. Two weeks ago, I traveled Michigan as a part of MiGrid, a Michigan-based company, and we started telling the story of the state’s clean energy opportunities through the Michigan Clean Energy Roadshow. The MiGrid team visited over 25 clean energy sites and interviewed over 25 business owners, experts, and Michigan residents. Highlighting the successes of Michigan’s RPS and other clean energy efforts in the state, MiGrid is educating, engaging, and empowering people and helping to build clean energy jobs and economic opportunities.

    Without a doubt, Michigan’s 2008 RPS is one of the most modest in the country; however, it was designed with that intention. In 2008, a more aggressive RPS wasn’t politically feasible, so policymakers chose an incremental approach that could serve as a proof of concept for Michigan. Currently, Michigan only receives 3.6 percent of its energy from renewable sources, but is on pace to increase that to 8.4 percent by 2013 and to 10 percent – the RPS goal – by 2015. This incremental approach has proven not only that clean energy can succeed in Michigan, but that Michigan is ready for an even more ambitious approach to clean energy moving forward – as is the rest of the country.

    In fact, clean energy has been a bright spot in the Michigan economy. Home to an industry cluster of advanced battery manufacturers, Michigan is reclaiming its place in the automobile industry. In 2010, according to Clean Edge, Michigan had the most clean energy patents of any state. And, according to Environmental Entrepreneurs, Michigan, with 1,319 anticipated jobs created, ranked fourth among states in new clean energy jobs this quarter.  In total, according to a recent Bureau of Labor and Statics report, Michigan is home to over 80,000 “green collar” jobs.

    While these industry-wide statistics speak loudly, possibly the most convincing evidence of Michigan’s clean energy economy are the numerous wind and solar installations popping up across the state. Whether it’s the recent solar installation at IKEA in Canton, wind turbine blades coming through the port in Muskegon, or the introduction of solar at Ypsilanti’s Corner Brewery, there are stories of clean energy all over the state. Innovative manufacturers and companies are also redefining Michigan’s economic landscape. The Detroit-based PowerPanel is a prime example; the new company is manufacturing an innovative combined solar hot water and solar photovoltaic panel that simultaneously generates electricity and hot water.  Energetx Composites, a company highlighted in this year’s State of the Union, was started by the owners of S2 Yachts – a manufacturer of Tiara Yachts and Pursuit Boats – and now manufactues wind turbine blades. These are just a handful of the types of success stories that were captured during the Michigan Clean Energy Roadshow and that continue to provide a foundation for a more radical energy transition in Michigan. 

    Building from these successes, the Michigan Energy, Michigan Jobs campaign (also known as 25 by 25) is supporting a more ambitious path forward for Michigan. Included as a ballot initiative this November, the campaign is supporting an increased RPS or RES of 25 percent by 2025. Included in November’s election as a ballot initiative, the 25 percent by 2025 is anticipated to attract 10 billion dollars in investment to Michigan and create 74,000 jobs. Such an increase would nearly double the clean energy jobs in Michigan and may show what job-creating potential a clean energy standard could have nationally. Additionally, for Michigan, the initiative would reduce the $1.7 billion that Michigan spends importing coal from out of state each year. As Michigan’s installed clean energy capacity nearly triples in the next three years, the clean energy economy will continue to move forward with or without the passage of the ballot initiative. However, the passage of 25 by 25 this November would catapult Michigan to the forefront of the clean energy economy in the United States and, in turn, help the United States compete globally.

    From seeing these businesses, job creation, and installations and hearing their stories throughout the state, it is clear that a transition to clean energy is inevitable in Michigan. Still, citizens and policymakers in many cases remain unaware of the economic opportunity and stories behind clean energy. As Skip Pruss points out in a recent op-ed in the Detroit Free Press, Michigan has the opportunity lead in this sector, but it must seize it.

    The clean energy economy should be about people, and therefore it should start with people. Through increased awareness of and familiarity with clean energy systems, Michigan residents and Americans more generally will be able to fully engage in the clean energy economy. A recent report documents the “contagious” nature of solar installations: “there is a positive, statistically significant, causal effect of previous nearby installations on a household’s decision to adopt solar panels…A one percent increase in the zip code installed base leads to approximately a one percent increase in the zip code adoption rate.” As the report points out, the results of increased exposure to clean energy systems add up. Taking this idea to a broader level, broadcasting and uncovering the successful strategies and the benefits of clean energy in Michigan can serve to stimulate growth in this sector in other states and at the national level.

    Clean energy, in Michigan and across the globe, has the potential to transform how economies work and where and how energy is generated. This November, when Michigan votes on the 25 by 25 ballot initiative, it won’t be determining whether clean energy has a place in Michigan; what will be on the line is the degree and the trajectory of Michigan’s clean energy transformation. Michigan was once one of America’s industrial capitals with the automotive industry. Can it pave the way forward again?

    MiGrid will be releasing videos, interviews, and pictures from the Michigan Clean Energy Roadshow in the coming weeks. For more information about the MiGrid and the Roadshow please go to to mi-grid.com

    Cory Connolly is a Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline Fellow focusing on the development of the clean energy economy and a member of MiGrid.

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  • Powering Forward: The Case for Renewable Energy Incentives

    Dec 20, 2011Cory Connolly

    To create jobs, encourage economic growth, and ensure a sustainable future, Congress must continue to support clean energy.

    To create jobs, encourage economic growth, and ensure a sustainable future, Congress must continue to support clean energy.

    Since the recession began, renewable energy, the environment, and climate change have taken a back seat in political discussions. However, the development of the renewable energy industry has been a rare bright spot during tough economic times. The clean energy economy continues to grow, creating jobs, mitigating carbon emissions, improving energy security, and carving out a place in the international market. For this progress to be sustained and even accelerated, federal tax incentives need to be extended.

    Clean energy industries, like wind, solar, and biodiesel, have taken advantage of federal tax incentives like the Production Tax Credit (PTC), Investment Tax Credit (ITC), and the Treasury Cash Grant to carve out an important and growing sector of the U.S. economy. However, many of those incentives are now in danger. The PTC, which provides 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour of wind energy produced for the first 10 years of a project, is set to expire at the end of 2012. Its extension is currently being debated in Congress and is critical to the continued viability and progress of the wind industry. With 54,000 new or saved jobs at stake in wind, industry leaders are also advocating for a four-year extension of the PTC. The cash grant, also known as program 1603 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, is slated to expire at the end of 2011. According to an SEIA report released last week, this will spell trouble for the solar industry.

    With calls for austerity measures and government cutbacks on basic social services, these incentives may not seem affordable, but what many aren't aware of is the progress and innovation that these policies have stimulated. Solar energy is expected to reach grid parity in the short term, wind energy is becoming more competitive, and in a few regions of the U.S. both technologies are now claimed to be competitive with traditional sources. In the last four years, wind generation has accounted for 35 percent of all new generating capacity, and at the current rate the wind industry alone is expected to create 500,000 jobs by 2030.

    The SEIA report also showed that installed generation capacity from solar has increased 10-fold since 2005 and that the third quarter of 2011 saw 140 percent growth in capacity installed compared to the same quarter in the previous year. In 2011, federal incentives helped the industry reach a total of over 100,000 solar-related jobs in the U.S. The cash grant has made 3,600 grants, totaling $1.5 billion, and, according to Milbank's Alan Marks, has leveraged over $22 billion in private investment. Having funded 22,000 projects in 47 states, the cash grant's impact has been remarkable and its ability to support a still developing industry is proven.

    As these incentives have stimulated progress in clean energy industries, they have clearly had an economic impact at the state level. As of early 2011, clean energy technology was the fastest growing sector in Michigan, the auto capital of the world. California is home to 25,575 solar-related jobs alone. Combined with state renewable portfolio standards (RPS), which set a target percentage of renewable generation by a specific year, and other state and municipal incentives, the federal tax incentive programs have had amplified success in numerous states.

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    Not only have the tax incentives accelerated the adoption of clean energy and driven the creation of manufacturing jobs, but they have also helped stimulate innovative and entrepreneurial activity in the energy sector -- something that has rarely been done in an industry that is traditionally centralized, concentrated, and unaccommodating to entrepreneurs. Innovative business models have been developed by companies like SunRun and Sungevity. These companies utilize incentives to help make solar affordable and accessible for consumers in the short term and are helping build the foundation for distributed energy generation in the long term. While nonprofit ventures like Solar Mosaic are not necessarily qualifying for federal incentives, they are also infiltrating the energy generation sector with models for community ownership of clean energy generation, thanks to the continued advancement of the industry. As new business models develop and this industry "booms," the only thing less desirable than the current uncertainty is the actual expiration of federal tax incentives.

    Some might balk at or criticize subsidies for clean energy, and Congress clearly doesn't want to be seen as "picking favorites," particularly in light of the recent Solyndra controversy. Given these likely talking points, there are a couple of factors that need to be kept in mind when talking about subsidies for clean energy. First, the extension of the federal tax incentives is not indefinite -- federal incentives will be removed as soon as the technologies and the sector have matured enough to compete and thrive. That is to say, they will be removed when they have done their job. Second, subsidies and tax incentives are pervasive but unbalanced in the energy industry. According to the 2011 IEA World Energy Outlook, global fossil-fuel subsidies amounted to $409 billion in 2010, while global renewable energy subsidies totaled a mere $66 billion. Renewable energy technologies are advancing rapidly but need support to compete with established carbon emitting fossil fuels and the already existing subsidies.

    While monetary support is clearly lopsided internationally, it is important to note that from 2007 to 2010 renewable energy subsidies increased from $39 billion to $66 billion globally. This indicates that, despite the global economic downturn, governments are seeing an upside to increased investment in renewable energy. As Steven Cohen pointed out in a Huffington Post piece supporting the extension of 1603, "Destroying solar energy in America will not kill the industry worldwide, it will simply eliminate America's prominent role in a very promising, emerging industry." With volatile oil markets, continued climate concerns, and the electrification of developing countries, it is clear that there is an important place for clean energy in the international market -- it is just a matter of America's ability to capture it.

    A clean energy economy is in sight, but if we don't embrace its successes and support its growth, we'll lose its economic and environmental benefits. We need to find better ways to advertise and communicate the progress of clean energy and the important role of incentives in these and future successes. The wind and solar industries have seen unprecedented success in recent years thanks in large part to the Production Tax Credit and the section 1603 cash grant. These industries aren't yet prepared to stand on their own, but given enough time and support they may become strong enough to fuel a rejuvenated U.S. economy.

    Cory Connolly is a Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline Fellow focusing on the development of the clean energy economy.

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