Louisville, Kentucky — Michigan Governor Rick Snyder is setting his energy stall out early in the state's two-year legislative session, saying he wants to look into weaning the state off coal-fired generation.
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Currently, Michigan sources about 50% of its power from coal-fired plants, but Snyder told the Michigan Conservative Energy Forum Thursday that "now is the time to look at a long-term transition away from coal."
In the long term, Snyder sees potential replacements for coal such as natural gas and wind "as viable options for Michigan, both of which have begun to build a presence in the state," Dave Murray, the governor's deputy press secretary, said Friday.
And the former business executive and venture capitalist's stance on potentially expanding the state's 10% by 2015 renewable portfolio standard during this year's session could hold influence in the Republican-dominated state Legislature -- which began its session on January 13.
No timeline for the phasing out of coal-fired power was provided Thursday, but Snyder -- one of the five Republicans currently occupying the governor's mansion in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin -- plans to deliver a special speech on energy in March.
So far, Snyder is the only governor in those five states to publicly call for coal generation's eventual demise. All five states get at least half of their electricity from coal. In Indiana, it is more than 80%.
Indiana Governor Mike Pence, considered a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2016, touted coal in his January 13 annual "state of the state" address.
"We must bring this war on coal to an end!" he declared, echoing a familiar refrain of coal backers who accuse the Obama administration of orchestrating a regulatory assault on coal, primarily through the US Environmental Protection Agency.
On Thursday, Walker, also seen as a GOP presidential hopeful, said Wisconsin is preparing to sue the Obama administration over the EPA's controversial Clean Power Plan that aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
In Ohio, Governor John Kasich signed 2014 legislation that froze until 2016 part of the state's 25% renewable energy standard that required electric utilities to secure 12.5% of their energy from renewables by 2025.
However, environmental groups are optimistic the Michigan RPS will be raised this year. "The governor seems to indicate this is mostly likely to be the year for action," Sarah Mullkoff, energy program director for the Michigan Environmental Council, said Friday. "It seems like all the pieces are falling into place."
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, renewables could supply 32.5% of Michigan's electricity needs by 2030 with virtually no effect on power costs and providing significant economic benefits.
In addition to coal's portion of the Michigan generation pie, nuclear accounts for 26% of the mix and natural gas 20.2%.