Governor's energy hearings start on Valentine's Day, end on Earth Day! Be heard!

Since we love energy efficiency and clean renewable power here at MEC, it is quite appropriate that today - Valentine's Day - is the first of seven public forums on Michigan's energy policy called for by Governor Rick Snyder.

The findings will be assembled and delivered to policy makers by the end of this year as the basis for legislative action in 2014.

The last forum - in Traverse City - convenes, fittingly, on April 22. That's Earth Day, the day we celebrate the planet and recommit ourselves to protecting it. What better symbolism?

A little background.

In 2008 Michigan passed energy efficiency and renewable energy laws that require:

-- Utilities to demonstrate efficiency gains equal to 1% of sales to customers annually;

-- That 10% of Michigan's electricity generation come from clean, renewable sources by 2015.

Those programs are working. They are meeting energy needs below the cost of the most common alternative, coal plants; and at roughly the same cost as natural gas. The price of coal is rising. The price of natural gas, while at historic lows today, is likely to fluctuate. The price of renewable systems, particularly wind in Michigan, is dropping. And renewable contracts bring low cost plus the added benefit of 20-year guarantees for ratepayers - a measure of certainty impossible with coal and natural gas.

The cost of efficiency measures is dramatically lower than all of the alternatives, saving ratepayers $3.55 for every $1 invested in the program according to the Michigan Public Service Commission.

None of this has resulted in ANY disruption to the electricity grid, or the need for the exorbitantly expensive "backup" power that opponents warned darkly of five years ago. Nor will it create problems at the percentages of renewable energy we're talking about (dozens of other states have renewable generation targets higher than ours).

Clean energy systems are also job creators. Especially for medium and small manufacturers, installation companies and maintenance crews that are part of the backbone of Michigan's economy.

Governor Snyder has called for testimony at these forums to be fact-finding endeavors. And we'll likely hear all manner of "fact" to be tossed about.

The Michigan Environmental Council has been assembling and critically examining data about Michigan's energy policy for more than a decade. We were joint architects of the 2008 energy laws. We bring hard data to the table with studies on costs, job creation and public health. We regularly intervene to protect residential ratepayers during proceedings at the Michigan Public Service Commission, helping keep utility bills in check.

We think we have a handle on the facts that are backed by sound evidence and serious research.

For example, not long ago we engaged scientists to study healthcare costs related to pollution from burning coal. Using established methods, they found that Michiganders spend a staggering $1.5 billion each year just in costs and damages from pollution spewed by the state's nine of our oldest coal-fired boilers. Those are hidden costs. Embedded in our health care premiums, emergency room visits and Medicaid costs, among others. They should be part of this discussion.

And we have an idea whose "facts" aren't facts at all. We'll be calling out those poseurs should they attempt to poison the process with inaccurate and self-serving information.

We are buoyed by Gov. Snyder's commitment to this months-long fact-finding process. It should show conclusively that substantial improvements to Michigan's energy efficiency and renewable energy standards are good for ratepayers, public health and our environment. The governor has a lot of smart people on his staff. And we trust that now they've turned their relentless action on energy issues, they'll reach the same conclusion.

We'll be at the forums, and we hope you will too.


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