DETROIT, Michigan (April 19, 2022)—The need for resilient renewable energy is stronger than ever, as demand for clean electricity grows and worsening climate impacts challenge the aging power grid. Fortunately, Michigan can show climate leadership and meet 100% of its electricity needs with renewable energy by 2035, according to “On the Road to 100% Renewables for Michigan,” a new analysis released today by the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition (MEJC) and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).
“Our study found that not only can Michigan meet its electricity needs solely with renewable energy by 2035, but also if the state enacted such a requirement, state residents would reap significant health and economic benefits,” said James Gignac, senior Midwest energy analyst at UCS and lead author of the study.
The analysis focused on two main scenarios—a “No New Policy” scenario, where electricity policy and plans continue business as usual, and a “100% renewable electricity standard (RES)” scenario, where the state meets all of its electricity needs with renewable energy by 2035.
In the “100% RES” scenario, Michigan would see 400 to 900 fewer premature deaths, 9,000 fewer asthma cases, and 43,000 fewer lost workdays by 2040, and nearly $15 billion in total in public health cost savings. By 2040, Michigan would also gain 100,000 jobs constructing and installing new wind and solar, resulting in $10 billion in net labor income from wages and salaries, benefits, payroll taxes, and income earned by local business owners.
The study found that the move to invest in renewable energy infrastructure in the “100% RES” scenario would not increase average residential energy burden—the percentage of income spent on electricity and natural gas for home heating. Indeed, energy burden would drop in both the “100% RES” and “No New Policy” scenarios. Moreover, the calculations did not capture substantial potential additional savings in the “100% RES” scenario from a reduction in gasoline and propane use for residents switching to electric vehicles and heat pumps. The study also highlighted the importance of ensuring energy burden reductions for households that would most benefit from them.
“Energy burden is especially important for low-income households because they spend a higher portion of their income on energy costs than the average household,” said Gignac. “Policy makers need to make sure that those households get equal access to money-saving investments in energy efficiency, rooftop solar, electrification, and other clean-energy strategies, and targeted energy rates where necessary.”
The study also revealed that more is needed beyond an RES to cut heat-trapping emissions and air pollution from fossil-fueled generation.
“Most RESs don't require fossil fuel plants to close, which means utilities can keep them running and exporting their power to customers in other states—perpetuating the disproportionate harm of the power sector on environmental justice communities, and hamstringing efforts to reduce heat-trapping emissions,” said Jamesa Johnson Greer, Executive Director of MEJC. “That’s why we modeled a ‘Restricted Fossil Fuel’ scenario, where Michigan prohibits the construction of new gas-fired power plants and accelerates the closure of coal-fired plants in addition to the 100% RES. We find this essentially eliminates the power sector’s sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides emissions by 2030, and its carbon dioxide emissions by 2035. This vision is technically feasible and morally imperative. Michigan can meet critical benchmarks to evade the worst climate impacts, while eliminating ten years of health-threatening emissions on kids growing up near power plants in Wayne County and around the state.”
The analysis recommends that states enact comprehensive clean energy transition policies, including policies that prioritize reducing pollution in already overburdened communities, avoid new investments in fossil fuel infrastructure, and prevent dangerous overreliance on gas. In addition, environmental justice communities most impacted by these decisions should have the decision-making power to ensure everyone benefits from clean energy, according to the report.
The Michigan analysis is part of a larger study looking at the effects that a 100% RES would have if adopted by each of the two dozen states in the contiguous U.S. that are part of the U.S. Climate Alliance, whose members have committed to reducing heat-trapping emissions consistent with the goals of the 2015 Paris climate agreement. Existing nuclear power plants, though not counting toward the 100% requirement, would remain open through their lifespans for this analysis. To see the national study, which found the USCA states together would experience benefits like those that would occur in Michigan, click here.