How One State Can Triple Its Renewable Energy Use at No Additional Cost
By Sam Gomberg
With Gov. Rick Snyder’s recent announcement of clean energy goals for Michigan, the conversation is quickly developing around the future role of renewable energy in the state. To help inform that conversation, a newly released analysis by my Union of Concerned Scientists colleagues and me found that Michigan can triple its use of renewable energy—from 10 percent in 2015 to 33 percent in 2030—at virtually no cost to consumers. Here’s how.
Keep the renewable energy transition moving
Michigan’s current renewable electricity standard (RES)—which requires utilities to meet 10 percent of the state’s electricity demand with renewable energy resources by 2015 — is a success, but it’s about to level off unless additional policies are put in place to extend it.
Michigan utilities are well on their way towards meeting the full standard, and a discussion has been underway for more than a year about what should come next. That discussion produced a wealth of information about how renewable energy is working right now for Michigan and how there’s potential to do more.
So we decided to take a deeper dive into the data and paint a clearer picture of what Michigan’s energy future might look like if it strengthens its commitment to developing renewable energy resources. Using the Regional Energy Deployment System model developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, we examined the impacts on consumers, the economy, and the environment of three potential scenarios for meeting Michigan’s future electricity demand:
- Continuing without policies in place to further drive renewable energy development
- Increasing Michigan’s RES to 17.5 percent by the year 2020
- Increasing Michigan’s RES to 32.5 percent by the year 2030
Michigan can affordably meet 32.5 percent of its electricity needs and reap significant economic, public health and environmental benefits
Our findings show that Michigan can affordably meet 32.5 percent of its electricity needs with in-state renewable energy resources by 2030 while maintaining reliability in the electricity system. Doing so will spur billions of dollars of investment in Michigan, cut electricity sector carbon dioxide emissions, and reduce the risks to consumers of an over-reliance on coal or natural gas.
What’s even better is that developing Michigan’s renewable energy resources can be done with virtually no increase in electricity costs over the next 15 years. Ramping up renewable energy to meet 32.5 percent of demand in 2030 adds just 0.3 percent to the cost of meeting Michigan’s electricity demand from 2014 to 2030. In some years, average retail electricity prices are actually lower under a 32.5 percent RES scenario. Pursuing a less robust RES, 17.5 percent by 2020, significantly reduces the economic, public health, and environmental benefits without reducing the costs.
According to our analysis, establishing a 32.5 percent by 2030 RES in Michigan means:
- Sustained and robust development of Michigan’s renewable energy resources: Michigan’s renewable energy industries would add an average of about 550 megawatts (MW) of new renewable energy capacity per year, totaling more than 11,000 MW by 2030. Without policy support beyond 2015, renewable energy development in Michigan would remain largely stagnant from 2014 to 2030.
- Significant economic benefits: The development of Michigan’s renewable energy resources would drive more than $9.5 billion in new capital investments from 2016 to 2030. By 2030, renewable energy facilities would also add nearly $570 million in operation and maintenance payments and more than $21 million in land lease payments annually.
Economic Investments in Michigan Under a 32.5 Percent by 2030 RES
- Reduced carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions: Reduced dependence on coal and natural gas would lower CO2 emissions by more than 65 million tons from 2014 to 2030—equivalent to the annual emissions of 15 typical-size (600 MW) coal plants.
- A more diverse electricity supply for Michigan: Renewable energy development, led primarily by wind energy, would displace both coal and natural gas in Michigan’s electricity generation mix, leading to lower risks to consumers resulting from an overreliance on fossil fuels to meet electricity demand.
It’s time for Michigan to increase its commitment to renewable energy by extending and strengthening its renewable electricity standard.
Michigan has vast in-state renewable energy resources—more than enough to meet the state’s 2012 electricity demand several times over. These resources remain largely untapped today as the state continues to rely heavily on its aging and inefficient coal fleet to generate electricity. This overreliance on fossil fuels generates substantial air pollution and carbon emissions, and takes a significant toll on public health, the state’s economy, and the climate. Renewable energy offers an electricity resource that is reliable, affordable, adaptable, and protective of the environment—all goals that Gov. Snyder has laid out for the state’s electricity sector.
Our analysis builds on a growing list of resources showing how renewable energy is working for Michigan right now and how it can continue to provide economic, public health, and environmental benefits for the state. With Michigan’s current RES set to level off in 2015, Gov. Snyder and the Michigan legislature should work toward passing an RES policy for Michigan that includes achieving at least 30 percent renewable energy by 2030. Delaying legislative action only means delaying a cleaner, more reliable, more economically beneficial energy future for Michigan.
Visit EcoWatch’s RENEWABLES page for more related news on this topic.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.