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.