Michigan and Ohio may soon be facing off on the regional electric grid, where power generated by utilities in each state gets distributed.
If voters approve Proposal 3 on the Michigan ballot this fall, the state would have to get 25 percent of its electricity from renewable-energy sources by 2025. Should that happen, Ohio could see one of its fastest-growing sources of jobs move north. Companies that build wind turbines, solar panels, and the many parts that go into these devices are drawn to states that make the strongest commitments to their industry.
Advocates say passage of the ballot proposal would make Michigan the most enticing state in the Great Lakes region for renewable-energy manufacturers and related industries. Michigan now requires 10 percent of its electricity to come from renewable-energy sources by 2015, a threshold that critics contend has become obsolete.
Renewable-energy sources have come down in price and gained a foothold in many states. Ohio is one of the nation's leaders in clean-energy jobs, thanks largely to a 2009 state law that requires at least 12.5 percent of its electricity to come from renewable sources by 2025.
Ohio utilities can generate their own renewable energy or invest in someone else's. The law has created new markets for companies that make products that utilities and their business partners need to comply.
It would have been preferable to enact the Michigan proposal as a state law rather than a constitutional amendment, which would be harder to update or repeal as changed conditions warrant. But the plan is more ambitious than what Ohio is doing now.
The Michigan proposal would cap annual rate increases for renewable energy at 1 percent -- a provision that opponents vow to fight in court if it passes. Ohio has no such limit, but it should.
The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio also needs to close a loophole that allows utilities to pass along excessive costs they pay for renewable-energy credits to consumers. Auditors recently concluded that northern Ohio customers will pay about $5 more a month because FirstEnergy Corp. bought such credits last year from other companies at grossly inflated prices to avoid a fine for not complying with the renewable-energy law.
Congress also needs to renew a federal production tax credit for wind power that is set to expire this year. The credit has helped create thousands of direct and spin-off jobs, in Ohio and other states.
A Michigan State University study estimates passage of Proposal 3 would create 75,000 jobs in Michigan by 2025. That's almost as many jobs as the U.S. wind industry now supports nationwide.
If Michigan's proposal becomes law, Ohio would have to elevate its renewable-energy game as well. That wouldn't be a bad thing.