A report by the Union of Concerned Scientists says that a national renewable electricity standard (RES) would help achieve both.
A RES would require electric utilities to provide a set amount of electricity from renewable sources: wind, solar, geothermal and bioenergy. The U.S. Department of Energy could implement such a program.
Several state utility companies, including ones serving Cadillac, Grayling and Mackinaw City, are already active in the field.
The UCS report stresses the importance of a national standard because the use of natural resources and the environment affects all states.
“All states benefit from clean air,” said Jeff Deyette, an energy analyst for UCS, a nonprofit group of environmentally conscious scientists and citizens.
In Michigan, the analysis found that a 20 percent standard would create new jobs and save consumers money by 2020. It projects 4,950 new jobs in the manufacturing, construction, operation and maintenance of renewable energy industries in the state.
And residential consumers would save an estimated $440 million in energy costs by 2020.
David Gard, the energy policy specialist for the Michigan Environmental Council, said Michigan would benefit greatly from renewable energy sources.
“Michigan imports all its coal and three-fourths of all the natural gas used to make electricity. Anything we can do to ward off the export of dollars from the state is good for Michigan,” he said.
Richard Vander Veen, president of Mackinaw Power LLC, said renewable energy is important for national security. Vander Veen’s Lowell-based Bay Windpower Co. constructed commercial wind turbines around Mackinaw City in 2001.
Renewable energy “is the first line of defense against not being dependent on foreign fuel,” Vander Veen said.
However, some experts question whether a RES would guarantee jobs and lower electricity costs.
“At least initially, the price of renewable energy is higher and there are high front-end costs, especially with solar and wind power,” said Paul Isely, professor of economics of Grand Valley State University.
Isely said job creation depends on demand for alternative power sources. “If there’s a big push towards new energy sources, then more jobs will be created in Michigan. We are already on the forefront.”
Some companies are already involved in renewable energy projects around the state.
For example, Decker Energy International of Winter Park, Fla., operates two biomass plants in Michigan: the Grayling Generating Station and Cadillac Renewable Energy. The plants are fueled by wood waste from local lumber and paper mills.
And Jerry Decker, founder of Decker Energy, said that his company is the largest property taxpayer in Grayling.
Decker, who has been in the renewable energy business for 23 years, is now investing in bringing wind power to Michigan, including plans for 100 wind turbines in Mason County.
“Michigan is behind in producing renewable energy and must get with it for the good of the country and the good of the world,” he said.
Greg Mulder, a power specialist for Coffman Electrical Equipment Co. in Grand Rapids, stresses the need for incentives to get more businesses involved in renewable energy.