Sustainable energy is an increasingly pressing issue as the world’s finite resources deplete, and the environment continues to feel the effects of waste and pollution. In March of 2015 Governor Snyder highlighted a plan for the future of Michigan’s energy production. Included in this plan was a goal for 30-40 percent of Michigan’s energy to come from renewable sources and energy waste reduction within 10 years. Snyder declared that he wanted Michigan to get a head start on its energy future and take preliminary steps ahead of D.C.’s mandate.
On May 18th IPPSR hosted a forum on the outlook of Michigan’s energy policy. A panel of experts including Robert Jackson, Director of the Regional and National Response Division for the Michigan Agency for Energy; Ann Erhardt, Michigan State University Director of Sustainability; Soren Anderson, Associate Professor of Economics at MSU, and; Donald Morelli, Professor and Interim Chairperson for the MSU College of Engineering. The four offered a variety of perspectives on what and how Michigan can move into renewables and waste reduction.
Robert Jackson offered a government perspective and noted that a majority of Michigan’s energy currently comes from non-renewable sources, explaining that the state is currently transitioning away from coal. Mr. Jackson recognized citizen groups who are providing input on a “road map” for future policy, and that these road maps need to consider a comprehensive view of transportation, energy, communication, and waste. He mentioned that the state is assisting companies with clean energy ideas by giving them access to research facilities, creating incentives for clean energy technologies on campuses, and helping communities having impact by power plant closures. Closing off, Mr. Jackson said many questions remain unanswered, including how to make energy efficient homes more affordable, and how to make wastewater treatment more energy efficient.
Ann Erhardt shared that MSU creates all of its own energy to accommodate 12,000 faculty and staff and nearly 40,000 students on just over 5,100 acres. In 2012, an energy transition plan began moving campus toward renewable energy use. By converting MSU’s coal burning plant to a resource for natural gas, the university has dramatically reduced its energy costs. The main components of the plan are Capacity, Cost, Environment, Health, and Reliability. Ms. Erhardt noted that in order to have a successful transition to clean energy, all five components need to be accounted for. She stated, “In order to have progress, you need to have a need for change and a desire for change.” Ms. Erhardt claimed MSU as a model for schools across the nation with a set goal to operate on 100 percent renewable energy.
Soren Anderson noted two primary ways to reduce carbon emissions: Using less energy overall, or switching to lower carbon fuels. Professor Anderson pointed to methods for practice, claiming that economist overwhelmingly prefer carbon pricing such as a carbon tax, or a cap-and-trade system. He explained further that carbon pricing successfully rewards all behavior that reduces emissions and leads to efficient distributions of resources. Other emission reduction options were detailed to demonstrate carbon pricing as the most cost effective. Professor Anderson called for more detail and increased transparency on residents’ use of energy and how their costs are distributed, enabling voluntary adjustments in energy-use behaviors.
Donald Morelli shared some of the science behind energy use and climate. He prefaced his presentation with three main points of consideration: Challengers, Opportunities, and Risks. The primary challenges in energy and climate are decreasing oil reserves, which we currently depend on for most energy; and increasing global temperatures, which will have significant negative consequences if left unchecked. Professor Morelli sees major opportunities facing us right now, such as new drilling technology that reaches more oil; increased technology for energy efficiency and renewable energy; stronger, cheaper batteries, and; the conversion of wasted heat into electricity. Two major risks must be considered as we look to the future: a weakening climate due to inefficient energy and energy use, and a weakening economy due to costly energy solutions.
All panelists agree on these points: 1) Energy policy will be a highly debated topic far into the foreseeable future. 2) A smart energy policy must consider a large variety of factors, many of which are not immediately intuitive. 3) With careful consideration, Michigan can springboard ahead in clean and renewable energy, setting an example for the rest of the country to follow.