Lawmakers are at odds over a bill that would change Michigan’s definition of renewable energy to count electricity generated by burning tires, used oil and industrial waste.
The Republican-backed legislation is pending in the Senate after it was approved last week on a mostly party-line vote in the House.
Michigan law requires utilities to produce 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources such as wind and sun by the end of 2015, and Gov. Rick Snyder and legislators are expected to debate boosting the target next year.
But during their lame-duck session this month, some lawmakers are first pushing for incinerators – which burn trash to create energy or fuel – to be able to call more of their portfolio renewable for purposes of the state’s clean energy standard. The bill also would no longer allow only incinerators built before the 2008 law to be considered a “renewable energy system.”
“This allows for new technologies to come into place here and I think it allows for some good landfill diversion into useful energy,” said House Energy and Technology Committee Chairman Aric Nesbitt, a Lawton Republican and the measure’s sponsor. “This is something that I think we should encourage and try to work on.”
Critics, however, said enacting the legislation would be a step backward and make little sense before legislators tackle a broad energy rewrite.
Democratic Rep. Sam Singh of East Lansing said it “makes a mockery of renewable energy and makes a mockery of this Legislature.”
Environmental groups are mobilizing and urging the GOP-controlled Senate to let the bill die. They appear likely to get their wish – a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville said Friday it wasn’t a lame-duck priority and that he doesn’t plan to vote “as of now.”
Jack Schmitt, deputy director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, said Michigan shouldn’t add to the list of hazardous wastes that can be burned and qualify as renewable energy.
“If we open the door to this, it could potentially allow more waste energy to take the spot of renewable energy. That’s not a direction we think the state should go in,” he said.
Opponents said incinerators contribute to pollution and put the public’s health at risk. They’re also dismayed that the legislation would delete the law’s definition of a renewable energy resource as a resource that’s ultimately derived from solar, water or wind power.
Before the bill won initial approval, it was changed so petroleum coke, a byproduct of oil refining that’s burned in power plants, couldn’t be deemed a renewable energy resource.
Rep. Ed McBroom, a Vulcan Republican, said he supports “using up our trash” as opposed to “sticking it in the ground.”
“We’ve got … piles of tires out in the middle of nowhere. Let’s do something with them. They can generate energy. They utilize the technology that keeps the emissions clean. It’s a tremendous opportunity,” he said.
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