How Michigan has become a new battleground for renewable energy


NOV 14, 2023

This column was first published Callaway Climate Insights. For more climate finance insights Please subscribe.

Gotion, a Chinese-owned EV battery manufacturer (backed by VW) is finalizing plans for a $2.36 billion, 2,000+ job battery parts plant in Michigan. The plant (rendering above) will be built in Big Rapids. Image: Gotion.

Here’s why I have fallen in love with Michigan (again)

I have a soft spot for Michigan, in part because it was the first place I landed in America.

Flying on the long-gone PanAm, I landed at Detroit’s airport, where I was picked up by my great-uncle, the husband of my grandmother’s sister. He had a giant Chrysler New Yorker, in which he whisked me across the state to the small city of Allegan, where he was the local hospital’s administrator and my great-aunt was a nurse. I was mighty impressed with the wheels, especially since my parents drove a tiny Citroen 2CV.

And then I arrived at their house — and found almost every surface to be covered with elephants. Why? Because my great-uncle was a high-up in the Michigan Republican Party. And guess what was on TV? The Watergate Hearings. “Surely you don’t want to watch that rubbish?” he said. Overall, though, their welcome was exemplary.

Perhaps as counter-programming, a few days later, my relatives took me to a barbecue hosted by the local congressman, Guy Vander Jagt. I was very out of place with my shoulder-length hair and pink denim suit.

And then a few days later, we drove to the state capital, Lansing, where I was taken to meet the then-governor, William Milliken. Having shocked the barbecue crowd, I had changed into something more sober. My hair, though, remained the same.

I thought of my visit to Milliken’s office when I read that the state, now run by a Democrat governor, Gretchen Whitmer — whose party also runs the house and senate — is on the cusp of introducing a bundle of laws requiring 100% renewable power by 2040. The legislation will also tighten energy efficiency requirements for electric utilities, allow more residents to enroll in a rooftop solar energy program and streamline permits for new wind and solar power.

“With passage of these game-changing bills, Michigan will become a national leader on clean energy,” Whitmer said after the bill cleared the senate. “People want to know that they can start a family, career, or business in a state that will provide them strong economic opportunities and fight for their children’s future.”

Now I have an even softer spot for the Great Lakes State.

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