BAD AXE – The Democratic candidate in the 2014 Michigan gubernatorial race on Friday told the Tribune he would like to see Michigan increase the required amount of energy utilities have to generate from renewable energy sources.
Mark Schauer, D-Battle Creek, helped create Michigan’s first Renewable Energy Standard, which was approved in 2008 and requires utilities generate at least 10 percent of their electricity from renewables by 2015.
“The good news is that 10 percent is going to be achieved by the various utility companies in Michigan, (but) I think we can do more,” he said. “I think we should do more.”
Schauer, a former state lawmaker and U.S. congressman, didn’t elaborate as to what he’d deem a viable increase in the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS).
“I don’t have a specific number in mind, but I know when I was in the Legislature, folks didn’t think 10 percent was achievable, and fortunately, we reached a bipartisan consensus around that number.”
State Rep. Terry Brown, D-Pigeon, also was in the Legislature when the state’s RPS was approved.
“This was a really tricky thing to maneuver,” he said. “ … But what disappoints us right now is what they’ve done with the Tax Commission, because there were promises made that we all heard.”
Brown’s referring to prior action by the State Tax Commission which essentially lowered the taxable value of wind turbines.
Schauer said the state needs to have a serious conversation about having a high standard for the amount of electricity generated from renewables. And part of that is consideration for areas that were promised a certain amount of revenue but have received less.
“I don’t think the Tax Commission understands the wind industry,” Schauer said. “That was apparent to me.”
He said he understands the dissent that can exist in local communities experiencing wind development, and he’s personally witnessed some heated local planning commission meetings.
“The tax issue always comes up because there’s no certainty,” he said. “… To have a local government approve a wind farm with the expectation of a particular tax revenue, to have that change, is wrong … that’s unfair. There has to be certainty for those projects that already have been built and there has to be certainty for projects going forward.”
At the same time, Brown said, there’s a certain responsibility that comes into play for the local units.
“Government money, no matter how much it comes in, as far as taxes on turbines, it’s not forever,” Brown said. “So what do you do with it, for the meantime, to say this is for the community good? … We’ve talked about methane digesters and other things like that. Think about investing that community money into something now that can provide some alternatives to make this even a more delightful place to live, a place where you have some new economy coming in.”
Schauer said the state always will have a mix of energy generation sources, though the primary source of renewable energy generation is wind energy. He said investment that’s been made since the state adopted its RPS has shown that the cost of renewable energy is much less than what originally was projected.
“ … They’re showing that renewables are a very low cost form of generation as well as providing benefits of being clean,” he said.
The RPS provided some certainty for not just utility companies, but also manufactures who refitted their operations to be able to manufacture wind turbine components, some of which are being imported to China, Schauer said.
“My point is, we need some long-term certainty,” he said. “It’s 2013 and there aren’t going to be many more projects put in the pipeline to reach the 10 percent by 2015,” he said.
Schauer spoke during an interview at the Tribune office, which was one stop during his Friday visit to the Thumb. He also made appearances at the Huron County Democratic Headquarters in downtown Bad Axe, and was scheduled to tour the Cooperative Elevator’s Elkton plant and the Huron County Hunger Relief project site in Elkton.
Schauer said this wasn’t his first visit to the area, as he previously was here a number of times at local wind farms. In that capacity, he was employed by Michigan LECET, and worked on behalf of contractors and skilled trade workers.
As for the 2014 Michigan gubernatorial race, Schauer said he absolutely plans to campaign on the fact that Republican Gov. Rick Snyder gave businesses a $1.8 billion tax cut while cutting education funding and revenue sharing to local units of government.
“I think Gov. Snyder and his Legislature have taken our state in the wrong direction,” said Schauer, a self-touted “product of education.” “… To me, the single most important investment we can make in our state’s future … is public education. So when Rick Snyder and the Republicans in Lansing cut $1 billion from our schools – a half a billion from higher education – and then tax retiree pensions, raise taxes on parents raising kids, raise taxes on low wage earners all to pay for a … tax giveaway to corporations that wasn’t tied to job creation … that’s the wrong direction for our state. And the proof is in the pudding: Michigan’s economy is struggling.”
Schauer hit on the fact that Michigan’s unemployment rate has increased over the last three months to 9 percent and, according to figures released Friday, it has the fourth worst unemployment rate in the nation. Meanwhile, the national unemployment rate is decreasing.
“(Snyder’s) policies aren’t working,” he said. “Wages are dropping, the middle class is shrinking and poverty is increasing.”
Schauer admitted he has a very different philosophy than Snyder, who has yet to formally announce he will seek re-election to a second term. However, it’s widely expected he will be the Republican candidate. Schauer is the only candidate in the race, and he said the Democratic Party is united in its support for his candidacy.
While Democrats have criticized Snyder and his fellow Republicans for business tax cuts, the right has argued it’s helped Michigan become more competitive, and they feel the state will lose jobs to states like Indiana if taxes are raised.
“It’s a seductive argument,” Brown said. “… What it looks like is happening right now is that … we have folks – we have companies – that are making some increased revenues again right now, but that’s not turning around for jobs.”
New jobs aren’t being created, and existing workers are experiencing stagnant incomes, Brown said.
“That’s why we need a new governor, that’s why I’m going to be elected governor because the people get it. There’s buyer’s remorse,” he said. “Folks thought we were getting this moderate Bill Milliken as our governor, and that’s not what we’ve gotten.”
Schauer is not expected to have as much financial resources as Snyder, who donated $6 million out of his own pocket to his campaign fund last election.
Still, Schauer’s optimistic.
“I’m not going to have a money problem – I never said I was going to raise and spend as much as millionaire Rick Snyder,” he said. “… We will have the money we need to get our message out and communicate to voters of the state – not just Democrats, but (the) Independent and Republican who doesn’t like what this governor does – we will have the resources we need to communicate this.”
Referencing both national and Michigan pundits who have predicted next year’s gubernatorial race will be a toss up, Schauer feels he has an advantage as his party is very organized, while there is dissent in Snyder’s ranks, particularly from the Tea Party side of the party.
When asked whether he considers himself to be a moderate Democrat, Schauer answered that he’s a “common sense Democrat.”
“I always have been.”