Stronger Clean Energy Policies, Carbon Trading Could Yield Significant Health, Economic Benefits for Michigan

Published Apr 15, 2016

LANSING (April 19, 2016)—A new analysis released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) shows that strengthening Michigan’s clean energy policies, together with a national carbon emissions-trading program, provides a sensible way for the state to deliver significant health and economic benefits to residents and comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan.

The UCS analysis found that if the state achieved 30 percent renewable energy by 2030 and 1.5 percent annual electricity savings through energy efficiency programs as key strategies to comply with the Clean Power Plan, it could:

  • Drive nearly $13 billion in capital investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency in Michigan;
  • Yield 8,300 megawatts of new wind and solar capacity in Michigan by 2030; and
  • Provide an estimated $4.1 billion in public health benefits cumulatively by 2030 through avoided carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide pollution.

Additionally, if Michigan were to participate in a national carbon emissions trading program, the analysis shows it could generate an average of $428 million annually by 2030 through the sale of allowances, which companies would need to purchase to emit carbon dioxide.

According to the analysis, Michigan could incorporate more renewables and energy efficiency to comply with the Clean Power Plan at the same cost as meeting the plan through continued reliance on coal and purchasing allowance to offset those emissions.

“Michigan’s reliance on coal plants is declining due to their age, inefficiency, and competition from cleaner, lower-cost resources such as renewable energy and natural gas,” said Sam Gomberg, energy analyst in the UCS Midwest office. “Just last week, Consumers Energy retired seven coal units across the state. By 2020, 25 units will be retired in Michigan.”

Under the clean energy scenario, Michigan would avoid 9,000 tons each of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions—harmful air pollutants linked to a variety of health impacts, including premature deaths, pregnancy complications and respiratory ailments—by 2030. In 2013, asthma alone accounted for 13,000 hospital stays in Michigan, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Service.Costs of treatment for these health issues paired with reduced productivity negatively affects Michigan’s economy.

“Our analysis indicates that renewables and efficiency are critical components of maximizing the economic and public health benefits of the Clean Power Plan,” said Gomberg. “This commitment will not only drive billions in capital investment, but also provide public health benefits that translate directly into a stronger Michigan economy. We can’t ignore the negative health and economic impacts coal plant emissions have on Michigan and its residents. Reducing our reliance on this outdated resource will help make Michigan communities healthier and more economically productive.”

In Michigan, these policies also have the potential to strongly benefit communities of color and low-income communities who endure a disproportionate burden of pollution from coal-fired power plants. To ensure these communities benefit from the transition away from coal, the state compliance plan should require meaningful engagement with these stakeholders and an environmental justice analysis to evaluate its localized impacts.

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay in February regarding implementation of the Clean Power Plan until the rule’s content is evaluated. Gov. Rick Snyder should follow the lead of governors from at least 19 other states moving forward with crafting their state’s compliance plans. This will ensure Michigan maintains its strong momentum in transitioning to low-carbon energy while waiting for the Clean Power Plan to be legally resolved.

“The Supreme Court’s temporary stay of the Clean Power Plan doesn’t change the reality of climate change or diminish the opportunity to invest in a cleaner, more sustainable electricity sector in Michigan,” said Gomberg. “Our analysis shows how a strong commitment to renewables and energy efficiency leads to a more diversified electricity supply that not only cuts carbon emissions, but provides significant public health and economic benefits in Michigan.”

Click here to view a related blog post by Gomberg.