HICKORY CORNERS — In his long-awaiting address on energy issues, Gov. Rick Snyder said he wants to bring together various interest groups to study what should be in Michigan’s energy plan.
Speaking at Michigan State University’s W.K. Kellogg Biological Station, Snyder’s special message focused on making 2013 the year where government, environmental leaders, utilities and industry groups come together to develop a strategic plan.
The message culminated with the announcement of an energy summit to take place on Mackinac Island next year.
But industry insiders said the message fell flat because Snyder failed to lay down any specific plans for Michigan’s energy future.
While sources MiBiz spoke with praised the governor for his emphasis on pushing energy efficiency standards, reliability and natural resource stewardship, he failed to resonate on topic of renewable energy and the push for a more distributed energy model, they said.
“My main beef is that he said, ‘Let’s spend the next year thinking about (energy)’ when the debate has been out in the marketplace and on the table,” said Bruce Goodman, an environmental and energy attorney with Varnum LLP in Grand Rapids. “We don’t need any more study. We need leadership.”
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Renewable energy projects and planning for energy efficiency measures take time, and developers and others need to know now where the state is headed in setting energy goals, Goodman said.
Snyder said Michigan needs to be cautious in establishing new goals because the state is at the higher end of the energy cost structure in comparison to other Midwest states. He also said adaptability has to be foundation of every energy decision the state makes. He touted the success of the state’s programs such as Michigan Saves, which uses public funds and private lenders to help homes and businesses to save energy and money.
The governor also focused on energy production and transmission infrastructure, highlighting the benefits of natural gas in reducing long electric transmission lines.
“Michigan has reliability issues and we need to improve,” Snyder said, adding there is an opportunity for the state to better utilize its natural gas resources.
Snyder’s energy message came at the front end of a speech that also focused on land management, the use of public lands and protecting the state’s water resources.
“We are committed to reinventing Michigan, and with the help of both the legislature and the people, we are seeing results,” Snyder said. “Our ability to adapt will ensure that, no matter what the future holds, Michigan will be ready.”
At Grand Valley State University’s Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center in Muskegon, which hosted a live webcast of the message, those in attendance were left wanting to hear more specifics from the governor.
“Reflecting on the overall message, it certainly had its positive aspects, but it was definitely a conservative message,” said Arn Boezaart, director of MAREC. “I don’t think the message captured the potential of renewable energy for economic development and employment in Michigan.”
Boezaart said he would have liked to see a stronger voice from Snyder on renewable energy sources and an increase in the state’s renewable portfolio standard.
“I don’t think it would have been a stretch or inappropriate to challenge the utilities to say, ‘We need to get to the next level’ and perhaps suggest that we are all charged with figuring out how to get there,” he said. “He totally missed the distributed energy system, which is where the technology is going.”
The current energy system is going to be here for a while, and natural gas — because of its low price — is a hot topic that is going to play heavily in the discussion in the near term, Boezaart said. While natural gas is a move in the right direction, it’s a half step forward, he added.
“We understand it’s an incremental process, and we’re not going to leap-frog from coal to the most innovative renewable energy overnight,” Boezaart said. “But it was a message that was long awaited, and for those of us closer to the business at hand, we were hoping for a stronger statement.”