Sunday, March 6, 2011

New data: Clean energy in Michigan comes in cheaper than coal; utility says it will only cost one-third of original projections

Everyone knows renewable energy is way more expensive than the ‘cheap’ coal touted by those slick industry advertisements Right?

Two words: Bull. Puckey. And a pair of stunning new developments in Michigan make that analysis abundantly clear.

First, a refresher: You’ll remember that the Michigan Legislature passed the state’s first renewable energy standard in 2008. It requires utilities to generate 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2015. The utilities also are required to administer energy efficiency programs to help customers reduce their use.

You’ll also recall that the anti-tax and anti-government zealots – along with the fossil fuel lobby – opposed the measures vehemently. Their mouthpieces at places like the Detroit News editorial page complained loudly that the programs were outrageously expensive socialist plots by “the Greens” that would bankrupt the state’s ratepayers.

Now, more than two years in, we have actual data on the cost of these clean energy programs. And two documents released in February show how it’s working out:

#1: The Michigan Public Service Commission (PSC), in this analysis (PDF) released last month, reports that the cost of renewable energy in Michigan is 25 percent less expensive than electricity from a new coal fired power plant. It further reports that the cost of saving energy through the new efficiency programs is one-tenth of the cost of providing it with a new coal plant. These renewable energy costs are based on actual contract prices, not guesswork. Bottom line: Cheaper. Than. Coal.

#2: Consumers Energy Co., in a rate filing in late February, reports that meeting the renewable energy law’s requirements will cost one-third of its original projection. Instead of $1.5 billion, it will cost ratepayers $500 million to meet the 10 percent standards. Bills will be adjusted. Adjusted downward. Honestly, when was the last time a contractor started a job, and then told the customer “Geez, we didn’t think it would be so easy. We’re cutting your bill by two thirds.”?

Again: Cheaper. Than. Coal. And that’s even before we begin talking about the reduced health care and pollution costs that accompany clean energy. That’s not something you’re likely to read in a Detroit News editorial anytime soon.

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