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Monday, 29 October 2012 16:11

Prop. 3 backers urge state to leverage renewable energy to grow manufacturing

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Rich VanderVeen at Gratiot County Wind Farm. Rich VanderVeen at Gratiot County Wind Farm. MiBiz file photo: Joe Boomgaard

GRAND RAPIDS — Michigan shouldn’t miss out on the tepid pace of renewable energy development and the opportunities that industry brings to the state’s manufacturing base.

That was the message from Proposal 3 supporters Oct. 24 at a meeting at Meijer Gardens hosted by the Union of Concerned Scientists and Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell.

With the election a week away, representatives from the state’s renewable energy sector as well as local small business owners took to the stump trying to pull together some last-minute momentum for the proposal.

Michigan-based wind power developer Rich VanderVeen, whose latest venture, Wind Resources LLC, helped spearhead the state’s largest wind farm in Gratiot County, touted the steady decline of the cost of wind power as an indication that renewable energy doesn’t have to be more expensive than traditional fossil fuel power sources.

Addressing skeptics who say locking energy policy into the constitution is dangerous and could put the state’s economy at risk, VanderVeen said the constitution has been amended 31 times since 1963. Proposal 3 is matter of public health and national security in addition to being a job creator, he said.

The proposal won the support of a handful of big-name backers on both sides of the political aisle, including former Michigan Gov. William Milliken and former U.S. President Bill Clinton. But the backers face staunch opposition from many business groups and trade associations and from Gov. Rick Snyder.

Still, VanderVeen is undeterred.

“Approved 20 year purchase agreements by the (Michigan) Public Service Commission for wind power have dropped almost 50 percent from 11.6 cents per kilowatt-hour to 6.1 cents per kilowatt-hour in just the first four years,” VanderVeen said. “Why? Because we’re using better technology.”

Over the last five years, the national wind and solar industries have doubled in size, said Kevin Knobloch, president of the Massachusetts-based Union of Concerned Scientists.

“Part of that has been this tremendous growth in manufacturing. The percentage of components, towers, turbines, gear boxes, blades installed that are made in this country increased from 35 percent to almost 70 percent since 2005,” he said. “Name another manufacturing sector that grew during the recession.”

Renewable energy-based companies are locating in states that have strong renewable targets, he said, adding that if Michigan adopts Proposal 3, it will send a powerful message that the state wants to build this sector.

MiBiz recently highlighted both sides of the debate over the so-called “25 by ’25” campaign. Click here to read the previous report.

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