Renewable energy initiative update - Part 1

An agreement between a state ballot initiative group and major energy companies will increase energy efficiency and use of renewable energy sources and improve the environment.

It was announced last week that two major energy producers in Michigan would accelerate plans to increase their renewable portfolios. This action was in exchange for the dropping of a ballot initiative to increase the state’s renewable energy increase mandate. The 2018 ballot initiative, if adopted by voters in November, would incrementally increase state standards from 18 percent by 2022 to 30 percent by 2030. The current 2016 state law outlines a goal of 15 percent renewable energy generation by 2021. 

DTE and Consumers Energy have agreed to work toward a 50 percent clean energy goal by 2030. This will be accomplished through a combination of 25 percent renewable energy and 25 percent in energy efficiency. 

This agreement will be included to each company’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) that must be filed with the state’s Public Service Commission (PSC) which oversees these companies. An IRP is a long-term plan outlining a utility's resource needs to meet future energy demand. Currently, 33 states require utilities to file IRPs with their state PSC.

Renewable energy generated from natural processes, such as wind, sunlight and water, will be used to obtain the 25 percent in the agreement. These sources will never be depleted unlike coal, oil or gas which are finite resources. Besides being unlimited, renewable energy sources also are clean sources because they don’t release carbon pollution in the atmosphere when burned to create energy. The primary alternative energy sources typically considered are:

  • Solar energy, available for many years, uses solar panels to change the sun’s energy into electricity or heat that can be used for energy. 
  • Wind energy, formed by the earth’s rotation, captures air currents and turns it into electricity through wind turbines. 
  • Geothermal energy, while not as common as solar or wind, has significant potential as an energy source. Geothermal (“Geo” means earth and “thermal” means heat) heat energy is generated from the Earth’s constant underground temperature using water reservoirs. 
  • Hydropower is created either by moving water (water current in a river) or water’s change in elevation or fall from one level to another (waterfalls). 

While this agreement will decrease pollution in our air and water, there are tradeoffs.  It takes significantly more of a renewable energy to generate the same amount of power compared to the non-renewable sources of gas, oil or coal.  There are still some environmental impacts from renewable energy and, in some cases, the lifespan of the renewable system can be shorter so requires replacement sooner than convention energy generation sources. Some areas have issued moratoriums on additional renewable sources, such as wind, due to issues of sound, flickering, land use and viewscapes.

For more information about renewable energy sources and how they work, see Renewable energy initiative update – Part 2.

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