Michigan considering a mandate for renewable energy in constitution

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In less than two weeks, Michigan residents will vote on a hotly-contested ballot initiative. The debate centres around whether the state should become the first in the U.S. to enshrine a renewable energy mandate in its constitution. And supporters say the move could put clean energy in the national spotlight.

The measure is simply known as Proposal 3. It would require that one-quarter of the electricity produced in the state of Michigan must come from renewable energy sources by 2025.

According to Reuters, the state is already halfway to meeting its current mandate. That mandate was passed in 2008 by the state legislature to produce 10 percent of its electricity from renewable sources — such as wind, solar, hydro and biomass by 2015.

It is important to note, however, that 30 states (including Michigan) already have a renewable electricity standard in place. However, if this proposed amendment passes it would be the first time a renewable energy standard would appear in the constitution. Ultimately, this makes it difficult to strike down or change.

Reuters reports that supporters of the proposal have said that taking this approach is necessary to make sure that popular support for green energy is not overshadowed by what they see as special interests in the state government.

“I see this as absolutely important part of the democratic process. It places checks and balances against legislature, which is unwilling to act,” said Sam Gomberg, a Chicago-based energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) to Reuters.

Gomberg went on to tell the news agency that one year ago, a number of Michigan-based environmental and labour groups talked about extending the state’s current renewable energy standard (RES) by 15 years. But it was met with strong resistance from utilities providers.

Reuters reports that instead of floating the expansion of the RES as a statutory initiative on Election Day ballots, proponents introduced it as a constitutional amendment. This would prevent state lawmakers from drafting competing and contrasting ballot initiatives.

U.S. election day is set for November 6th, when Americans will head to the polls to vote for the country’s next president.

Because of the looming election date, coalitions of opposing utilities and business groups have reportedly been pumping millions of dollars into TV advertising to sway voters ahead of the presidential vote.

Reuters reports that one of these coalitions is called “Clean Affordable Renewable Energy”. The group argues that the measure will cost Michigan taxpayers anywhere from $12 billion to $15 billion largely from higher energy costs and argued the state already has an effective mandate in place.

Meanwhile, amendment backers — which include the environmental group the Sierra Club and the United Auto Workers — say the renewable energy mandate will create 94,000 jobs in the struggling manufacturing state. The groups also argue that it will stimulate $10.3 billion in overall investment.

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