Michigan: Great Lakes, great expectations. (Image courtesy of Shutterstock.)

Probably the most important energy-related vote this November is happening in the swing state of Michigan, where voters will decide whether to substantially boost the state’s renewable energy standard (RES). It’s a big deal for all sorts of reasons, many of which extend beyond the state itself. So let’s walk through the background.

In 2008, Michigan passed a law to require the state’s utilities to generate 10 percent of their power from renewable energy sources by 2015. It was an extremely cautious RES, full of defensive provisos prohibiting anything that would cost more than coal power or raise electricity rates.

This year, the Michigan Public Service Commission, which oversees compliance, issued an updated report [PDF] on how implementation is going. The top-line conclusion is that implementation is going smoothly and “providers are on pace to hit the 2012 interim targets as well as the 10 percent by 2015 renewable energy standard.” Whee!

Renewable energy in the state is exploding:

Michigan Public Service Commission: renewables in Michigan
Click to embiggen.

Between 2008 and 2011, the RES attracted more than $100 million in new investment to the state. Michigan electricity prices are down, due to the recession and cheap natural gas, but the report notes that renewable energy doesn’t seem to have had any discernible effect at all on prices: “The electricity market has absorbed this initial level of capacity injections and demand reductions with little to no fluctuation in prices.”

In the last year, according to an appraisal [PDF] by the commission, the state’s electricity prices have started creeping back up, but that’s due to imported coal power, not renewables. Costs for renewables have been lower than expected, causing utilities to repeatedly lower their clean-energy surcharge. In fact, the combined average price of all Michigan’s new clean energy was lower than the price of electricity from conventional coal plants.