Elizabeth Brajevich: Could you give me some information on what Michigan Environmental Council is doing to support Proposal 3?
David Gard: The primary thing we're doing right now is speaking engagements, so we're going around the state with different staff members, heading out-a lot of these things happen in the evenings when more people are available to attend them. It can be anything from a church congregation to, just the other day, I was up in Marquette in the Upper Peninsula at a group that was being hosted at the downtown library there. I was talking to some students at Northern Michigan University up there--we've had people pretty much all over the state wherever we can get an audience of even 10 or 15 people or more.
Brajevich: What has been one of your biggest successes thus far that supports Proposal 3?
Gard: We've been involved in funding some reports that have come out analyzing various aspects of the proposal. One of the ones that just came out we're really proud of is a cost study, just a look at the cost impact to rate payers and what the proposal would do. It wasn't done by us; it was really authored by 2 national experts who have professional careers intervening in various utility commissions across the country on behalf of rate payers. They’re very skilled at examining utility balance sheets and how they do various accounting and cost recovery. It makes some pretty conservative assumptions about the costs that would be required to make these investments to meet the 25 by 2025 standard and what it found out was that it actually helps rate payers pretty quickly in the short term and it lowers their risk, largely due to the offset of coal costs that we're not spending in Michigan for whenever you displace them. With these other technologies, those technologies are in Michigan. Coal all comes from out of state, it's entirely imported and so not having to do that so much is really the thing that drives very good benefits for rate payer,s especially residential rate payers, but any rate payer, including businesses and institutions that buy electricity in Michigan. So because of some of our support for these authors to develop it, that support has just come out and that's something that we've certainly been talking about as we've been going around the state talking to these different groups.
Brajevich: What would you say to address the lack of consistency in numbers for cost estimates associated with proposal 3?
Gard: What's the argument for consistency in cost numbers?
Brajevich: I know there was a question if the job estimate was accurate?
Gard: In the study done by Michigan State University, there was some question about what jobs meant and it's very clear that in terms for their report they define job in terms of job years, and that's very standard methodology that economists use when making these kinds of modeling results. I think some of the confusion might be with that but that's clearly spelled out in the report.
In terms of the cost impact you're right there is discrepancy between our report and there was another one that came out almost a month earlier by public sector consultants, bought and paid for by the opponents of Proposal 3. And if you put these two reports side by side, maybe I'm biased of course, but just looking at the analysis done in both I don't think it's even close. I mean, the level of analysis they did was completely, I think, bogus on a lot of their assumptions they made-its only looking at the cost of the investment. It does nothing to consider what are the offset costs that you'r not planning for if you go down this route. It's a lot of , I think, misstating some basic information about how utility cost assessment is done and that's why I'm really proud of the report we did . It really goes into a lot more detail and makes some realistic assumptions for what we're going to see in the future
The problem, I'll be honest, is that right now the pockets that the opposition has are much deeper and so we've got all this information and we're going out talking to groups of 10, 15, 25 people at a time but they've been blanketing the airways with 20 million dollars worth of advertising, I mean I don't know if its all being spent on that, but they've got millions and millions of dollars that they have at their disposal. With that kind of money you can be up on the air pretty much everywhere all the time and so it's trying to even out that, trying to reestablish some kind of a balance with that kind of media purchasing power is what we've really had to struggle with.
Brajevich: On that note to what extent do you believe education plays a role on the public perception of renewable energy options, I know that comes into play when looking at this proposal ?
Gard: Going on the point I was just making with TV advertising, as you know, it's really kind boiled down and simplified and it's very easy to use scare tactics and slogan-ering, just turn off the sound the next time you see one of these ads. Even the way it's constructed with ominous music and the way the imagery is done. Those are “educating the public” but I think it's really designed to be more of an emotional appeal whereas when we go out and talk to the audiences that we've been in front of it's been my personal experience that there are often, you know, people in the crowd and they have some legitimate questions and concerns and they are trying to educate themselves but when they have a chance to really sit there and listen to the full story and be able to ask thoughtful questions and have us provide some of their answers and put some of those other ads that they’re seeing into the context of the whole picture, then my experience has been people are very receptive to embracing this proposal once they understand what it's all about and that some of the things they’ve been told to fear are just not accurate.
Brajevich: What are some ways you think we could overcome that barrier of people's perception of the proposition versus what it would really be doing for our state ?
Gard: One of the fundamental things would be money in politics, and that's something much bigger than you or I could figure out. If there was some way to give equal time to proponents and opponents of any ballot initiative I think that would be a benefit to the voters so that would be one idea I would have. Also newspapers providing plenty of opportunities for all sides of an issue not just both sides because sometimes there are more than two, but for all legitimate sides of an issue to be heard I think that would be the most helpful thing.
Brajevich: Opponents often site the cost of proposal 3 as a reason not vote for it but what do you think the cost would be of not passing this proposal?
Gard: Well you've put your finger on probably the most important question that people should be asking. You know a gentleman in an audience last week that I was talking to was characterizing this as a big bet we're making and he said you know maybe it pays off maybe it doesn't, but it's a big risky bet if we get it wrong, it could cost a lot of money. My only response to that is we're making a bigger bet, taking a bigger risk, by not being very proactive and gradually increasing the amount of renewable energy in our portfolio. It would be, you know, going back to that issue I mentioned before about having to import all of the coal we buy and burn that's right now sixty percent of our electricity portfolio. It's from burning coal-it's all imported coal- it's on the order of two billion dollars per year. I think its 1.7 or 1.8 billion per year and what we've seen is the cost of coal has steadily, well not just steadily, it's really been rising quite rapidly. Since 2006 the delivered cost of coal to Michigan has gone up 70%. Some people have this old fashioned notion that coal is cheap and that's just not the case anymore. One of the reasons why that cost is going up is simply the fact that to mine the coal and to get it here that takes a lot of diesel fuel for the mining equipment, which is very energy intensive, and then of course all the train car loads full of coal that's all diesel fuel. The price of oil has been going up and with the price of oil being over 100 dollars a barrel, the price of diesel is going to be high, and that's going to feed right through to the price of bringing coal into Michigan. And there are other reasons why the cost of coal is rising as well. So going back to your specific question about what it would cost to not do this is really related to those assumptions-assuming that cost of coal will not go up and that's just not the case.
The other problem of course is that when we buy all that imported coal we're sending the wealth out of Michigan. So it's gone from our economy-we can't use it anymore. It's actually benefiting other economies in places like Wyoming and Montana and West Virginia; places where we buy that coal and that money is helping those economies. We should be taking some of the money that we're spending on that, and by investing in domestic renewables, that's money here in our state's economy that we can be putting people to work with investments right here at home. And that's not just a good energy strategy-that's a good economic strategy for Michigan.
Brajevich: If the proposal passes, how would we ensure effective implementation and make sure it really does happen and have all the benefits that its claiming it will have?
Gard: Thats a good question. The ballot initiative, if you read it, includes some provisions in there that the legislature would be responsible for doing some of the specific details, such as what are the interim targets going to be as well as some other things. And so really what it would take to effectively implement this is to have all the people that voted in favor of it to continue to be active and engaged and make sure their state legislators are hearing from them and keeping their feet to the fire that they didn't just want this passed; they want it actually implemented well. So it would take all the engagement of the voters to put pressure on the legislators to implement it fully.
Brajevich: What would be a specific example of how someone could do that?
Gard: A great way would be a lot of people don't take advantage of this, or even realize it, but their state legislators usually have office hours, or they have town hall or weekday morning coffee at a coffee shop in their districts, or listening sessions at the local library, or other places. These are publicized or usually on a regular cycle when the legislators are back at home in their communities and that's a great opportunity for somebody to show up at those meetings, you know, take advantage of those. You’ve got a captive audience, you know, often times many people don’t show up to these and so people that go there will be the ones that get ear time with a legislator and getting face to face in the districts. It's a great way to make sure that they know that there are people among their constituents who think this issue is important and they want action on it and of course that's in addition to calling on the phone, calling their office, writing letters and things, but getting face to face with a legislator in the district can be really effective.
Brajevich: If this proposal passes one other concern is that we don't know what it's effect will be on the lakeshore of Lake Michigan. Do you have any comments on that?
Gard: A couple points I would make: one is that, first of all, I want to dispel the notion that some people have that you need to put turbines in Lake Michigan in order to meet this proposal's requirements. And that's not the case. In fact we've shown our regulators, our public officials have demonstrated that there is plenty of onshore potential. In fact the number I've seen is 60 percent of the land mass or at least the lower peninsula land mass is eligible for cost effective citing of wind turbines. So the good part about that is that in part because of better turbine technology over time and higher tower heights so you get better wind profiles in more places. That means you get more choice on where you will cite wind farms and there are some places that they don't belong partly for wildlife impacts but also if one particular community just has a lot of issues with putting wind turbines nearby them with so much more land area available for good wind area, they’ll go to communities that want them and there have already been. The most recent one up in Gratiot county is a great example of a wind developer that really took the time to really talk to the local population, to educate them, get their feedback, take their input, and they've ended up with a really successful project because of that's the kind of process that we think is very possible around different parts of the state. The other parts of the answer to that question is people need to go back to the big picture of what is the impact if we don't do this and if we don't start reducing the amount of coal that we burn, then we've got a large issues related to global climate change, to very harmful emissions that have damaging impacts not only on human populations but also on natural systems, so you have to you know if you look at the impact in any area: cost, pollution, etc. of this proposal you have to compare that to what happens if we don't do that.