The debate over increasing Michigan’s renewable energy requirement is like the old argument about the glass being half empty or half full.
Supporters of the “Michigan Energy, Michigan Jobs” ballot initiative to require 25% renewable by 2025 say the proposal would bring $10 billion in economic investment to the state. What that means, according to opponents, is a $10 billion cost to Michiganians.
Opponents, which include the utility companies, have raised an issue over the wording of a Michigan Environmental Council press release reporting the results of an MSU study on the economic impact of the proposal. The Council, which commissioned the study, reported that researchers determined more than 74,000 jobs will be created if voters approve the ballot proposal.
I reported the same in a short article about the study–and immediately heard back from Megan Brown, spokeswoman for the CARE for Michigan Coalition, which opposes the amendment. I also heard from Tom Gantert, senior capitol correspondent for Michigan Capitol Confidential, a daily online news site of the conservative Mackinac Center for Public Policy.
Brown and Gantert complain that, according to the MSU study, more than 74,000 “job years” would be created by the proposal–not “jobs”. The report defines a job-hour as “Full employment for one person for 2080 hours in a 12 month span.”
In his e-mail to me, Gantert pointed out that MSU researchers calculated operations and maintenance jobs for the life of a plant. For example, wind operations and maintenance jobs were calculated for 20 years, and landfill gas jobs for 30 years.
“The Mackinac Center feels it is inaccurate to report 74,000 ‘job years’ as 74,000 jobs based on the MSU’s description of job years,” Gantert said.
I called Charles McKeown, one of the three Michigan State University researchers who completed the study, and he said the terms “jobs” and “job years” are used interchangeably in economic modeling. According to McKeown, most economic impact studies use this definition to create their economic models, but call each job-year a “job” in their final reports.
As McKeown explains: “If you have one guy, he would have to be a very skilled individual and it would take him 74,000-some odd years to get all the work done.” The researchers didn’t try to predict how many years each job would last, because that would be impossible, he said.
McKeown said critics are “trying to make a controversy out of semantics.” But I understand Brown’s and Gantert’s objection. For 74,000 jobs to be created, using the researchers’ definition, each one would last a year.
The average unemployed Michiganian would probably like their renewable energy job to last more than a year. Then again, a year of employment is better than nothing. Nobody seems to be disputing that the proposal would create jobs in Michigan. Whether the cup would be half empty or half full is up to voters to decide.