JACK SPENCER: News media mishandles this story

Ohio has recently jumped ahead of Michigan in the evaluation of wind energy. It has repealed a requirement that wind-generated electricity be produced in-state, created new regulations to prevent wind turbines from being built too close to homes and put its overall wind energy mandate on hold until further study of it takes place.

Not surprisingly, the mainstream news media in Ohio completely missed the significance of the in-state mandate being eliminated and the placing of stricter regulations on where turbines can be located. Its focus was solely on the mandate being put on hold, which could turn out to be the least important of the three changes.

Next year, Michigan’s legislature will revisit the energy law enacted in 2008 to determine what, if any, portions of it should be altered. Most of the headlines resulting from this review will likely involve the so-called “green” energy mandate, which requires that 10 percent of the state’s electricity be generated by in-state renewable sources by 2015. For all intents and purposes “renewable sources” means electricity generated by wind turbines.

Chances are that if Michigan follows Ohio’s lead by eliminating the in-state requirement from its wind mandate, the so-called “regular” news media is likely to muddle or miss the story. This seems especially probable if superficial changes, such as ambitious-sounding “green” energy goals, are tossed in the mix. To the mainstream media the wind mandate story-line is that wind power has a bright, promising future. It is deaf and dumb to any facts indicating things might be headed in the opposite direction.

If the in-state mandate was repealed that would mean energy suppliers could purchase wind-produced electricity from better wind power states, such as Iowa or Minnesota. A better wind power state is one where wind energy can be produced with at least some degree of efficiency. On average, the amount of electricity generated by wind power in Michigan for $80 is being generated by wind power in Iowa for $30.

Understand; we’re still talking about electricity that meets the requirement of being produced by wind; the change would be that it could be produced by wind anywhere, not just in Michigan. That’s the aspect of the change that will probably cause the regular news media to miss its significance.

The point is — without the in-state mandate, incentives to build wind turbines in lackluster wind states like Michigan and Ohio would be vastly reduced. In addition to the price differential between states, other reasons for ending the in-state mandate include that it has been an albatross around the necks of Michigan’s giant utilities — Consumers Energy and Detroit Edison- and that sometime over the next 10 years the federal courts could well rule that in-state mandates are unconstitutional.

Presuming Rick Snyder remains governor, and maybe even if he doesn’t, the utilities will probably dictate the outcome of next year’s review of Michigan’s energy law. So far, the utilities are signaling they want no substantive changes.

However, after seeing the regular news media fail to cover the end of Ohio’s in-state mandate, Michigan’s utilities may decide it’s time to get rid of Michigan’s. They could pursue this course with relative confidence that the regular news media wouldn’t pay much attention, provided other changes to the energy law include enough “green” sounding pabulum to distract it.

When it comes to wind energy, regular or “mainstream” news media coverage is nearly pure advocacy journalism. This would be fine if the regular news media acknowledged the bias, but no one expects that to happen any time soon.

While the news media paints a rosy portrait of wind energy, the reality is that wind power is on the ropes both nationally and internationally. Due to its inefficiency this was inevitable. It is just old-fashioned corporate welfare painted green. Germany, the poster-child nation for having embraced wind energy, is now walking away from it. The need to repeatedly fire up fossil fuel sources to back up wind turbines actually resulted in CO2 emission increases in Germany, instead of decreases.

Closer to home, the regular news media ignores virtually any problem with wind energy in Michigan, such as adverse health problems associated with living too close to turbines, and the resulting lawsuits; the fact that roughly 70 percent of the time wind energy in Michigan has to be backed-up by fossil fuels; the fact that the 2008 energy law did not require testing to see what impact, if any, wind power is having on the environment; and the lawsuit between Mason County and Consumers Energy over wind turbine noise levels.

Note: the regular news media’s failure to cover the Mason County situation goes beyond bias and reaches the level of incompetence.

No one should expect the news media to blindly accept the descriptions given above. The point is that it won’t even check into them — except possibly to ask wind advocates for their spin. The regular news media is so far afield on this issue that its coverage of the state legislature’s energy policy debate in 2015 shouldn’t be relied upon. That means tens of thousands of Michigan’s residents will continue to be misled.

Jack Spencer is Capitol Affairs Specialist for Capitol Confidential, an online newsletter associated with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (MCPP). MCPP provides policy analysis. The political analysis represented in this column does not necessarily reflect the views of the Mackinac Center.