At a recent Rotary Club meeting, I listened to a spokesperson for a local environmental group lamenting the state of our environment. The name of the group doesn’t matter as 90 percent of the message could be attributed to many such groups. Sadly, the message was very similar to one I had heard almost 10 years earlier, as well as every year since.
I am not writing today to disparage any group of well-intentioned individuals. However, I am writing to encourage individuals on both sides of every climate issue to spend more time on realistic solutions and less time debating or lamenting a problem.
I stood up at that Rotary meeting and asked a simple question: “Zoning issues are preventing utilities from achieving higher levels of renewable wind resources. What is your group doing to improve zoning in Michigan?” The answer: “Our group is not working on that issue.”
I drove home shaking my head. Cherryland has a power supply portfolio that is 18 percent renewable. We failed at an attempt to reach 30 percent when zoning votes in two townships in November 2016 killed a large wind project.
All I ever hear from environmental groups is “do more renewables.” There wasn’t one of these groups—local, regional or national in nature— encouraging these townships to pass ordinances favorable to renewable energy. The developer and Cherryland’s power supplier, Wolverine Power Cooperative, were in the losing battle alone.
While disappointed, I am far from surprised. Big wind is not sexy. It doesn’t bring in donors any longer. A carbon tax and railing about the “cost of carbon” are all the rage today. Tax carbon all you want. If we can’t build alternatives in Michigan, then old, dirty plants will be called on to operate longer just to keep the grid stable.
What are the solutions? The biggest one is the “not in my backyard” gorilla in the room. If you want cleaner air, we need more large wind projects in Michigan. They are going to have to go somewhere. Environmental organizations need to get behind key locations, step into the mud and help with the dirty work that is zoning for these structures.
Transmission is another solution that could use support from all sides. Michigan has a weak connection to the Upper Peninsula. As a state, we need to improve this connection and continue on into Canada. Canada is rich in renewable resources that could help improve our clean energy portfolios in Michigan.
Green groups need to get into these fights soon. I expect I will get responses about solar and conservation. They are small drips in a huge bucket. Climate advocates need to care a little less about donor dollars, tone down the sky is falling rants, work with utilities and really get strategic about achievable results that are meaningful on a big scale.
Debating the size and scope of the problem for another 10 years is a disservice to everyone. Working together on the not-so-popular solutions is where all sides need to put their time and effort in the years to come.