The US renewables industry got its wish in the re-election of President Barack Obama, but fared worse in state-wide ballot initiatives – including a stinging loss for a measure that would have seen Michigan adopt a binding 25% renewables target for 2025.
In July, supporters of the 25% renewables portfolio standard (RPS) won enough signatures to get the initiative – known as Proposition 3 – on the ballot in Michigan, and in recent weeks Michiganders have been blasted with political advertisements from both sides of the issue.
Proposition 3 has been one of the most closely watched ballot initiatives by US energy and climate groups in this election cycle, and its passage would have been seen as a significant indication of surging grassroots-level support for renewables.
In the event, however, voters in Michigan – the country’s eighth most populous state – resoundingly shot down the measure, with about 63% rejecting it, according to a late-day tally reported by the Detroit Free Press.
Those in favour of the target argued that it would have put Michigan – currently a renewable-energy backwater compared to many of its Midwestern neighbours – firmly on the clean-energy map. They claimed it would lead to more energy-related jobs in Michigan, which depends heavily on coal imported from other states for its electricity.
But the measure engendered strong opposition from a coalition of politically powerful groups, including the state’s two dominant power utilities, the popular Republican governor, and a variety of business lobbies, which claimed that potential power prices increases would dent the state’s critical manufacturing sector.
Proposition 3 included a provision stating that utilities could only raise power prices 1% per year in reference to the RPS. But some observers believe that part of the law may have been struck down, even as the 25% RPS was left in place.
In recent weeks, opponents increasingly tried to portray the measure as being driven by “California billionaires” looking to “hijack” the state’s energy policy. They also argued that Proposition 3 went too far in attempting to enshrine the RPS within the state constitution – a move that none of the nearly 30 US states with an RPS on their books have gone so far as to take.
Consumers Energy, Michigan’s largest utility and largest supplier of renewable electricity, opposed the initiative. The utility argued that the state should meet its existing – non-binding – 10% RPS for 2015 before adopting additional goals.
Michigan presently derives just 4% of its electricity from renewables.
Another troubling result for renewables came out of Arizona, as conservative Republicans swept the race for the five-person Arizona Corporation Commission, which oversees critical decisions on the state’s energy policy.
Three of the five seats were up for grabs, and a trio of Democrats had run on a “Solar Team” ticket – arguing for an increase in the state’s 15% by 2025 RPS, which was adopted by an all-Republican commission six years ago.
Arizona is home to some of the largest solar projects under construction in the US, such as First Solar’s 290MW Agua Caliente, and the case for more renewables dominated the ACC campaign. First Solar itself is based in Tempe, Arizona.
“I think Arizonans want clean energy, but they also want affordable energy,” said Bob Stump, the incoming ACC chairman, in the wake of the election.
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