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State officials want your input on Michigan's energy future

The DeYoung Power Plant in Holland.
Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio

In Michigan, we get more than half of our electricity from coal.  All of that coal is imported from other states.

In a couple weeks, you’ll get a chance to weigh in on how we’ll use energy in the future.

When Governor Rick Snyder gave his Special Message on Energy and the Environment last fall, he said he wanted to hold forums around the state to talk about energy.

He talked specifically about our current energy policy. There are a couple big things in there: one is our renewable portfolio standard. Utilities have to get 10 percent of their retail sales from renewable sources by the year 2015. There’s also an energy efficiency goal utilities have to meet.

"My belief is we need to increase the goals but let’s spend the next year, let’s spend 2013, having an open dialogue with all the participants, understanding where we’re at, how well we’ve done, and we’ve done well on some of these things," Snyder said.

So, that dialogue is starting up with seven public forums beginning February 14th. (You can find a full list of locations and dates here.)

But state officials don’t want these forums to be a wrestling match with a lot of shouting.  You might think of them more like helping the government do its homework.

Steve Bakkal directs the Michigan Energy Office.

"Sure, will there be groups out there that will come and try to advance their interests? But what we’re asking for is not that specific policy recommendation. We’re asking for the facts that they base their policy recommendations on."

In other words... the state wants your data.

If you go to the website they’ve set up for this purpose, you’ll find a dizzying set of 100 questions on all things energy.

Many of them are really technical... for example:  brace yourself... "What has been Michigan’s experience with self-implementation of rates?"

Not exactly casual water cooler chat.

But Steve Bakkal says the point of all this is to throw a wide net and get some solid facts.  Then, Governor Snyder will make recommendations to lawmakers at the end of this year.

The big elephant in the room is whether we should move away from using so much coal, and use more wind, solar and other renewables.

Governor Snyder thinks utilities should be required to get more energy from renewable sources.

Michigan’s two biggest utilities both stop short of saying yes or no to that idea.

Alejandro Bodipo-Memba is a spokesman for DTE Energy.

"It’s still a little too early to say whether it should or shouldn’t from our perspective in that we’re still trying to reach the 10 percent goal by 2015. But certainly, and we’ve said this from the beginning, that once we reach that threshold and assuming we’re on all cylinders to reach that, we are more than open to talk about next steps and I think that that’s kind of the tone the governor was taking with regard to that," says Bodipo-Memba.

As for Consumers Energy? Spokesman Jeff Holyfield also says we should wait and see.

"Our position is that the process established by the governor should be allowed to proceed and move forward, and then any decision about the renewable energy standard can be based on good hard facts and then there can be a discussion about 'well, what is appropriate?'" he says.

Others argue we shouldn’t spend too much time talking.

James Clift is the policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council. He says it makes sense to continue slowly raising our renewable standard.

"There’s a lot of businesses that have been created over the last five years in Michigan in this new field, and if we wait too long there will be a gap where we'll go a year or two without building anything; unfortunately I think that would result in the layoff of Michigan workers," says Clift.

Rebecca Williams is senior editor in the newsroom, where she edits stories and helps guide news coverage.
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