Jennifer Granholm ought to know better. As governor of a state that is paying the painful price of job-killing fuel economy mandates on automakers, she should understand the folly of forcing technologically impossible demands on an industry.
But there she was last week, pitching a proposal that Michigan utilities get 25 percent of their power from renewable resources by 2025.
Environmentalists cheered the governor’s boldness and forward thinking. But on the same day, the front page of The Detroit News carried a story out of Port Huron, where residents are fiercely fighting attempts to locate a windmill farm off the shores of Lake Huron.
Wind is the only renewable energy source that makes even a whit of sense for Michigan. Solar? Look out the window. Hydro? No way the greens are going to tolerate more dams or incursions into the Great Lakes. Biomass, ethanol? How much money you got?
So windmills it is. In Michigan, experts say wind power will have to make up 90 percent of any renewables mix.
But windmills work best when they’re sited on the flat, open spaces along lake shores. Those places also offer the most beautiful vistas in the state, and residents and tourists tend to get fighting mad when you mess up the view.
Even if it were technologically and economically feasible to replace 25 percent of Michigan’s energy with wind power, it’s not politically possible.
Replacing just one 1,000-megawatt coal plant would require 1,500 windmills. Meeting 25 percent of the state’s estimated 2025 electricity demand would take 6,800 windmills, built at a cost of $30 billion.
And each one would need 100 acres, so that’s 680,000 acres of prime lakeshore land covered with giant turbines.
It’s not going to happen.
But pretending it will distracts from the real decisions Michigan must make about its energy future.
Renewables are a part of that discussion, and – who knows? – they could become an even bigger part as technology improves.
But we have to be realistic about what’s possible today. If Michigan is to meet its power needs during the next quarter century, it has to build either a new coal plant or a nuclear plant. Or perhaps both. And it has to get started building now.
Either that, or its residents must commit to using a lot less energy.
Forcing unrealistic mandates on the utility industry will have the effect of diverting resources from more promising endeavors, such as improving clean coal technology and developing solutions for nuclear waste.
Climate crusading is a wonderful diversion for politicians, who like nothing better than to issue an edict – so let it be written, so let it be done, particularly if they’re not the ones who have to do the doing.
But utilities will add renewable energy to their portfolios as the technology becomes more efficient and the costs more reasonable.
Forcing unattainable standards to score political points will end up hitting customers in the wallets, and may leave the state in the dark.
Nolan Finley is editorial page editor of The News.
18 November 2007
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