Waiting for Green Power to Tip

Taylor, MI, which is located near Detroit, is one of countless cities in the Great Lakes and across the U.S. turning to renewable energy sources to power residential homes, slash escalating municipal costs, and reduce dependence on dirty coal plants.

But it's Mayor Cameron Priebe's reasoned perspective on the growing interest in wind power that's really worth taking away from this story, because it reveals what it will take to push civic support for alternative energy over the top.

"This isn't a movement yet," he told the Detroit News.

Wikipedia defines a movement as "a change in the way a number of different disciplines do their work." In other words, it's a clear and discernible shift in how a broad swath of people perceive, talk about, and act on a certain issue. When it comes to the issue of energy innovation, the movement for change in Michigan (and Ohio) still struggles to win over the proponents for the old way of doing things.

How do we know? Check out the Michigan Chamber of Commerce position on state legislation requiring energy companies to generate a specific amount of their power from renewable sources. To this widely influential group of business leaders, mandating alternative energy standards will drive up energy costs, escalate dependence on unreliable power sources (the wind isn't always blowing), and ultimately hinder Michigan's ability to compete for new jobs and investment. Better, they say, to build a great big nuclear plant.

At the same time, advocates for green power argue exactly the opposite. Investing in wind, solar, and other alternatives, they say, will generate jobs, diversify the power grid and the economy, and boost competitiveness in the global economy.

To put it simply, the movement for green power has yet to reach a tipping point. The old way of thinking about the state's long-term energy future is preferred to embracing innovation, unleashing entrepreneurialism, and taking risk.

It's only a matter of time before this moribound thinking is overcome, the "movement" for change gains a critical mass, and a whole new reality emerges. Twenty four states across the nation have adopted legislation requiring that a minimum amount of their power comes from green sources. The increasingly urgent question is how long will it take Michigan and Ohio to get on board, or come up with something better.

Ten of those green-powered states - California, New Jersey, and lil ole Delaware included- also rank among the top ten states most prepared to compete in the global economy. Michigan and Ohio, by contrast, have yet to adopt modern statewide energy standards - an indicator of openness to innovation - and both states fail to crack the top 20.

"This isn't a movement yet, but I hope it becomes a movement," Taylor Mayor Cameron Priebe told the Detroit News. "We're raising public awareness."