Michigan residents to vote on renewable energy proposal

Douglas Jester of Michigan Energy Michigan Jobs and Ken Sikkema of Clean Affordable Renewable Energy for Michigan Coalition participated in a live, online debate Friday in an attempt to clear up some confusion surrounding Proposal 3, one of six facing Michigan voters on Nov. 6.

Proposal 3, if passed, will amend Michigan’s constitution to require electricity providers to deliver 25 percent of their power from renewable sources (wind, solar, biomass and hydropower).

Jester, who supports the proposition, is a principal at 5 Lakes Energy LLC; Sikkema, who opposes Proposal 3, is a senior policy fellow at Public Sector Consultants. Both joined users of local news source Mlive to participate in the debate.

Each proponent presented an opening argument with Jester highlighting the costs of operating coal power plants compared to renewables, suggesting that the initial cost of Proposal 3 will be recouped in operating and maintenance savings.

“This is the future of electricity generation. It doesn’t cost more than conventional generation and has health and economic benefits,” said Jester.

Sikkema focused on the design of the proposal, implying that it was inefficient. “The issue isn’t about a reliance on renewable energy, but doing it in a way that’s affordable, that’s reliable, doesn’t disrupt local communities and is flexible,” said Sikkema.

Sikkema said he wouldn’t mind an expansion of renewable energy, but he was concerned about the proposed constitutional amendment, calling it “foolish and reckless.” He cited the 29 other states with renewable energy standards, none of which had a constitutional amendment.

Jester said that even though a law would accomplish the same goal, there was a sense of urgency to start these projects, and the amendment would speed the process.

There has been some uncertainty surrounding the cost of the proposal and what it means for Michigan jobs. Jester and Sikkema contradicted each other regarding the cost of the proposal.

Sikkema said it would cost taxpayers $15 billion and would raise utility rates; however, Jester said that wind power is cheaper per kilowatt-hour and renovations to existing coal plants would equal the cost of expanding Michigan’s renewable utilities.

The outcome of the proposal for Michigan jobs was equally ambiguous. Jester said that building and operating renewables would produce substantial employment in Michigan. Jester claimed that Proposal 3 would bring 94,000 job years to Michigan residents (job years are not the total number of jobs, but rather the number of years of employment for Michigan residents).

Sikkema challenged that position, saying that Proposal 3 will raise electricity rates “dramatically” and that the higher cost of electricity will result in job losses. Proposal 3 does contain a clause preventing substantial rate increases. Companies cannot increase rates by more than 1 percent per year in any attempt to meet the 25 percent standard. If companies cannot meet the standard without further increases, the deadline’s flexibility allows it be moved beyond 2025.

Calvin students had their own opinions about the bill. Some, like Sikkema, were concerned with the amendment. “I’d support a law, but not a constitutional amendment,” said junior Mark Greidanus.

Senior Mike Fennema supported Proposal 3, saying it is in the best interest of Michigan’s long-term economic growth. “A large portion of the coal that is used for Michigan electricity is actually not from the state of Michigan; therefore, we’re sending money out of the state,” he said. “It’s crucial to keep capital within the state if you’re going to grow Michigan’s economy, and Proposal 3 would encourage that.”

Check out Mlive.com to replay the debate and make an informed decision for Michigan’s future.