Ottawa County models true government 'assistance'
The marketplace is demonstrating what appears to be an almost pent-up demand for new sources of energy, recycled products and renewable materials. The region is generating dozens of news stories under those headlines every week, and that has been sustained for a comparatively long period of time in the Kent, Ottawa and Muskegon area. That interest has more recently been stimulated by federal, state and local government interest, but based on successes in the private sector.
Democrats in the Michigan House of Representatives, likely encouraged by those private initiatives and constituent interest, are now suggesting a big bump in the state energy regulations, just recently approved to require that 10 percent of utilities’ electricity come from renewable sources by 2015. Democrats now want to set that rate at 30 percent renewable portfolio standards by 2025. The proposal requires utilities to decrease their customer electricity usage by 2 percent annually, rather than the current 1 percent reduction required by 2012.
Though private sector advocates of the original legislation two years ago were disappointed the requirements were not set higher, the Business Journal advocates some caution in this regard, particularly in this recession and lacking legislative will to rewrite business tax codes. Incentives, rather than requirements, are a better approach, especially given that customer demand is itself pushing utility companies to those goals.
The wind energy category alone has been on a fast track in a very short period of time. Just a few years ago, Cascade Engineering became the model of manufacturing of wind turbines, even as international companies were buying wind rights on Kent and Ottawa county farms.
While many city and township governments pondered resident fears, Ottawa County planners rolled up their sleeves to accommodate such progress with specific zoning standards. The county recently was honored by the National Association of Counties with an achievement award for its diligence, and an eye for detail in recognizing one size does not fit all in standards for small, medium and large turbines. The county now has requests from several other Michigan counties, as well as from states around the country for its “model” ordinance. Another point to be made here is that Ottawa planners were not heavy-handed in the approach, seeking to “encourage renewable energy rather than discourage.”
A similar approach should be implemented in regard to use of recycled asphalt shingles in paving projects, especially as the market interest grows but is stymied for lack of, and fear of, any governmental regulations that would impact such a project in progress. The recycling saves literally tons of the material from landfills and reduces the mount of petroleum used for liquid asphalt.
Ottawa County has provided the best example of how governments can get out of the way, while paving the way for new development. If the private sector succeeds, so, too, does the public sector.