Tom Lyon op-ed: Dark money clouds energy debate

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

From the Detroit News: 

Voters are long familiar with Michigan’s big issues each election — jobs, education, infrastructure and taxes are perennial defining platforms for Michigan candidates. Energy is poised to join that short list, with issues surrounding energy choice, oil and gas development, renewables, and environmental stewardship top-of-mind for a growing percentage of legislators, corporate interests and voters. And with energy issues come “front groups” paid for by energy companies.

We hear messaging from front groups frequently during elections, but it may be hard to recognize them and even harder to know who is behind them these days. Bearing names that suggest grassroots origins, they appear to be selling apple pie, motherhood, and the American Way. Find your way to the back room, however, and their real character emerges. These are corporations and special interest groups manipulating public opinion and the political process for private advantage and profit.

Take, for example, CARE, Citizens for Affordable Renewable Energy, a Michigan front group created in 2012. It appeared to be trying to protect fellow citizens from the “thousands of dollars in higher electric bills for Michigan families and small businesses” if more electricity were required to come from renewable sources instead of coal. In reality, it was not run a grassroots citizens group at all – it was funded primarily by the two giant electric utilities in Michigan, DTE Energy and Consumers Power, who poured nearly $23 million into fighting a renewable energy proposal in Nov. 2012.

Reality check: the University of Michigan Energy Institute (UMEI) recently produced a report that carefully analyzed the impact of higher renewable energy standards in Michigan. It found that we could get 25 percent of our power from renewable sources by 2025 at a cost of just $2.60/month for the average customer – hardly the “thousands of dollars” that CARE was trying to scare people with.

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