governor Whitmer

Michigan: A Climate, Clean Energy Comeback Story

Michigan is proposing an ambitious plan to slash its planet-warming emissions while simultaneously bolstering its manufacturing prowess, revitalizing the auto industry with a transition to electric vehicles, and working to protect its robust natural treasures and resources.

This story is part of a series of stories based on RMI analysis of how key US states are deploying real climate solutions.

Everyone loves a good comeback story. With a Governor committing to bring investment back to the state, improve neglected infrastructure, and take the health of residents seriously, the state of Michigan is hoping to make its mainstream media narrative of underinvestment one of the past.

For Governor Gretchen Whitmer, that includes tackling climate change. It’s a problem that, if left untreated, would be detrimental to the state’s economy, which is dependent on its clean water sources, agriculture, and the auto industry.

Michigan is now one of the several US states proposing an ambitious plan to slash its planet-warming emissions while simultaneously bolstering its manufacturing prowess, revitalizing the auto industry with a transition to electric vehicles, and working to protect its robust natural treasures and resources.

This year, Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) — a new agency created by the Whitmer administration — released the Michigan Healthy Climate Plan, which outlines policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 52 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

But questions about the plan remain — namely, will it go far enough to prevent the worst impacts of climate change in the state?

New analysis from 5Lakes Energy, the Michigan Environmental Council (MEC), NRDC, Energy Innovation, and RMI found that, if fully implemented, the climate plan would reduce emissions by 50 percent — nearly reaching Michigan’s stated goal of 52 percent.

Our research shows Michigan’s climate plan sets the state up for success to deliver on emissions reductions targets and unlock a suite of economic and public health benefits for Michiganders in the coming decade. But going even further — through additional policies and strong implementation of the current plan to hit or exceed 52 percent — would compound those benefits and deliver the climate resilience needed.

What’s in the Plan

The Michigan Healthy Climate Plan includes a variety of proposals to help the state meet its economy-wide emissions reduction goal — including clean electricity generation targets (60 percent by 2030), pledging to phase out remaining coal-fired power plants by 2030, and creating incentives for electric vehicles and charging stations.

Our analysis finds that the following critical policies are the most significant drivers of emissions reductions in the plan:

  • A clean electricity standard that requires 60 percent of energy production by 2030 to come from clean sources like wind, solar, and nuclear.
  • Phasing out of coal-fired plants by 2030.
  • Building electrification by setting a sales standard that requires 21 percent of all new appliance sales to be electric by 2030 and increasing building efficiency in new buildings by 20 percent through adoption of the 2021 Model Code.
  • Incentives for consumers to purchase EVs and targeting an EV sales goal of at least 50 percent for light-duty passenger vehicles and at least 30 percent for heavy-duty EVs — both by 2030.

Together, these policies achieve an additional 34.5 million tons of greenhouse gas emission reductions, or half of emissions by 2030, relative to policies before the plan.

Together, the four policy targets result in the 50 percent emissions reductions. Data: Michigan Energy Policy Simulator.

In addition to what’s currently proposed in Michigan’s Climate Plan, recent funding from the federal government — roughly $9–$12 billion from the bipartisan infrastructure package and historic investments from Congress’ Inflation Reduction Act — could accelerate the state’s progress with suites of investment in clean energy, climate-smart infrastructure, electric vehicle manufacturing incentives, and energy efficiency measures.

For Douglas Jester, managing partner of 5 Lakes Energy, the new funding is even more reason the state should push further to hit its climate-aligned target (52 percent). “The incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act make the transition even more affordable and bringing those funds to Michigan will add employment and income,” he says.

Unlocking Economic and Public Health Benefits

Our analysis also finds a myriad of strong additional benefits beyond emissions reductions that would result from Michigan’s climate plan.

Our model finds that Michigan’s Climate Plan will lead to over 64,000 new manufacturing jobs (in job years) by 2030 compared to policies before the plan due to new solar projects and EV charging infrastructure, the retrofitting of existing buildings, and the manufacturing of numerous technologies such as wind turbines.

“If Michigan can match ambitious planning with strong implementation, the state will be a case study of how investing in a clean energy transition can be a major driver of job creation, economic development, and growth,” says Aaron Brickman, senior principal with RMI’s US Program, working on a new initiative to facilitate clean energy investment across American regions.  “While other manufacturing sectors continue to stagnate or decline, the stage is set for a clean energy and cleantech manufacturing golden age.”

The first 2022 GMC HUMMER EV Pickup Edition 1 exits Factory ZERO in Detroit and Hamtramck, Michigan. VIN 001 was auctioned in March 2021 at the Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale auction for $2.5 million to benefit the Tunnel to Towers Foundation. (Photo by Jeffrey Sauger for General Motors)

And it’s not just the manufacturing workforce that will benefit from the plan. The state-wide economy will feel the boost as increased energy efficiency slashes consumers’ heating and cooling bills, the cost of wind and solar steadily decline, and electric vehicles insulate drivers from fluctuating global fuel costs. Our analysis shows Michigan would benefit from at least a 2 percent increase in GDP by 2030 with the policy in place — a major gain for a state that has struggled to recover from previous economic downturns.

For the Health of Michiganders

Cutting climate-warming emissions also delivers huge health benefits by improving air and water quality. Michigan’s climate plan would successfully reduce health harms by closing polluting facilities like fossil fuel plants, reducing poor indoor air quality from the burning of gas in buildings, and minimizing sources of emissions in the transportation sector like internal combustion engine vehicles.

In total, we find that Michigan’s Climate Plan avoids over 200 deaths and over 3,000 asthma attacks a year by 2030 when compared to current policy. On top of improving the quality of life for all Michiganders, health benefits lead to a more productive workforce and lower the cost of healthcare.

“The state has an opportunity to put the health of Michiganders first by implementing the climate plan and taking even more ambitious action to move us away from fossil fuels,” said Charlotte Jameson, chief policy officer of the Michigan Environmental Council.

It is well known that polluting facilities are often sited in low-income and marginalized communities that have also been victims of historical underinvestment, leading to public health crises. That reality has been painfully felt in Michigan where lead-prone pipes have led to multiple water crises and Detroit’s residents continue to struggle with some of the nation’s worst air. By reducing emissions across the economy, Michigan can make a down payment on correcting historical injustices.

On the Cusp of Comeback

Michigan’s Climate Plan gets the state within a razorblade margin of hitting its climate target while making investments in the state’s manufacturing expertise, working to correct decades of environmental injustice, and giving communities more tools to deliver on a better, more livable and resilient future.

The state’s next moves — namely considering additional policies to reach its 52 percent target and implementing its current proposed clean energy and climate proposals successfully — could help accelerate its comeback story for years to come.

Part of Michigan State University’s 100-acre solar farm on campus. The school retired its on-site coal plant in 2016.

Part of Michigan State University’s 100-acre solar farm on campus. The school retired its on-site coal plant in 2016. Picture credit: Inovateus Solar.


More about the EPS

The report uses the Energy Policy Simulator (EPS) developed by Energy Innovation and RMI to determine the most feasible route to put the state’s energy use on track for near- and long-term GHG emissions reductions. The EPS is a free, open-source, peer-reviewed model that allows users to estimate climate and energy policy impacts on emissions, the economy, and public health using publicly available data. The model estimates these impacts through 2050 and considers how policies interact with each other.