Michigan conservatives launch renewable energy group

LANSING — Several Republican leaders have formed a conservative group aimed at promoting renewable energy in Michigan.

The Michigan Conservative Energy Forum will push the state to reduce its dependence on coal and increase investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency programs. The announcement comes two days before Gov. Rick Snyder is scheduled to conduct a roundtable discussion on the future of Michigan's energy policy.

"For too long, we have allowed the energy discourse to be dominated by the left," said Larry Ward, former political director for the Michigan Republican Party and executive director of the forum.

"Conservatives have sat on the sidelines for far too long," he said.

Though it's not affiliated with the state Republican Party, Ward said he expects most members to identify as Republican.

Ward said Michigan must diversify its energy supply and move towards an "all of the above" energy policy that includes wind, solar, hydro, biomass and natural gas. When asked about coal and nuclear power, he said they are part of the picture and that completely distancing from coal isn't an option.

He wouldn't come out in favor of a specific strategy, such as increasing Michigan's renewable energy standard by a certain percentage. Ward said he's anxious to hear Snyder's recommendations on the issue.

Snyder in November 2012 called for a one-year study on Michigan's energy future after voters rejected a ballot proposal that would have amended the constitution to require Michigan utilities to derive at least 25 percent of their annual electric retail sales from clean renewable sources by 2025. Utilities are on track to meet the current standard of 10 percent by 2015.

The Michigan Energy Office and Michigan Public Service Commission held several public forums and submitted four reports to the governor. One of the reports found that it's theoretically feasible for Michigan to achieve renewable energy standards as high as 30 percent by 2035.

Snyder is expected to address the reports on Thursday in Detroit. Further details were not immediately available.

Members of the newly formed conservative group said they support increased renewable energy for reasons of faith, economic, national security, health and public policy. While they acknowledged the environmental argument for supporting renewable energy, it's not a focus of the group.

"This is exactly what the Republican Party needs to be relevant for the next generation of voters," said Michael Stroud, co-chair of the Michigan Federation of College Republicans.

Stroud is one of seven members of the leadership council, in addition to Ward. The others include:

• Hank Fuhs - Secretary, Michigan Republican State Committee
• Kelly Mitchell - Vice Chair, Michigan Republican Party
• Keith den Hollander - Chair, Christian Coalition of Michigan
• Mark Huizenga - Mayor of Walker
• Anna Mouser - Chair, Grand Traverse County Republican Party
• Barb VanderVeen - Former member, Michigan House of Representatives

Email Melissa Anders at manders@mlive.com. Follow her on Google+ and Twitter: @MelissaDAnders. Download the MLive app for iPhone and Android.