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Solar, wind expansion on ballot in Michigan

A residential solar installationMichigan ballot issue Proposition 3 would expand the state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS) to 25 percent by 2025 from 10 percent by 2015. It’s likely the only RPS expansion in the country up for election this year. Such legislation is important because it creates jobs and stimulates the adoption of renewable energy, like wind, solar, hydro and biomass across the state.

The proposition itself would amend Michigan’s constitution and require its electric utilities to provide at least 25 percent of their annual retail electric sales from a combination of wind, solar, biomass and hydropower by 2025. “It’s pretty broad, it’s technology neutral,” said David Gard Energy Program Director at the Michigan Environmental Council. “It’s pretty much consistent with existing law.”

Under the proposition, anything that can compete on costs, will, according to Gard. “This sets the broad framework for policy then directs the legislature to fill in important details.”

RPS standards are key to the expansion of solar and wind in states like California, Colorado and Hawaii, which have the nation’s highest RPS’. If passed in Michigan it would be among the highest RPSs in the country and the highest in the midwest. They’ve also been measures that lead to new, real jobs.

The proposition in Michigan is expected to generate 74,000 job years, in terms of local construction and maintenance jobs. That’s not including the tens of thousands of jobs that will be created manufacturing, Gard said. But those could be located elsewhere.

The ballot measure has the support of numerous groups including the Michigan Environmental Council, United Auto Workers, Michigan Nurses Association, the Christian Coalition, former President Bill Clinton (D) and former Mich. Gov. William Milliken (R), among others. But the ballot measure also has his detractors. Among them Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder (R), the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, and Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution.

Whether or not the proposition will pass is hard to tell right now. While the proposition has widespread support, opponents of it have outspends proponents by a ratio of almost 2 to 1,Gard said. “There’s going to be significant support and it’s going to b e a pretty tight race, despite being outspent,” he said.

To get the proposition on the ballot proponents collected 419,636 signatures in support of the proposition. They pursued the course of action, in part because there’s been no interest in such an expansion from the legislature, according to Gard.

During the signature collection and subsequent meetings to educate voters, he said the reaction has been positive, with most people coming away from such events with a positive opinion. “If you took all the advertising off the table and put it to the voters without some of the misinformation and confusion it would pass pretty handily. Because of the money, it’s pretty tight,” Gard said. If the measure doesn’t pass for some reason, it’s less likely to disappear now because more people are supporting it now.

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