With summer upon us, the Michigan sun and cooling lake breezes provide vacation enjoyment and remind me our sun and wind provide a source of energy year-round. A farmer recently told me for forty years he has used the sun to grow his crops from seedlings in the spring to harvest in the fall.  He now uses the sun all four seasons to grow his new crop of energy; just like the food he has produced for Michigan families, he now produces energy for consumers to use in their homes and businesses.

His practical, common sense view of his role as an energy generator raises questions for energy consumers.  When we flip on a light switch, turn on our air conditioning, or cook a meal the electricity we need is immediately available.  We miss it during unexpected outages and only then realize how much we rely on energy in our lives. During these times, we wonder how we get our energy.  Who creates the energy?  How much does it cost?  How much do we have? What kind of energy are we getting?

For policymakers and energy generators these questions are ever present and drive America’s evolving 21st century energy policy to supply abundant, affordable, and reliable energy for the future. At the core of the energy policy discussion is the type of energy generated and consumer demand. In 2017, energy produced in the United States was equal to about 90% of our energy consumption.

Energy Made in America

In the United States the primary energy sources are petroleum, natural gas, coal, renewable energy, and nuclear energy. Renewable energy includes: geothermal, solar, wind, biomass, bio fuels, wood, and hydro-electric.  Electricity is a secondary energy source that is generated from these primary energy sources.  According to the US Energy Information Administration, in 2017 energy produced in America was produced from the following sources:
US Energy Consumption by Energy Source, 2017

Energy Consumption in America

In 2017, the shares of total primary energy consumption in America were from the following energy-consuming sectors:
US Primary Energy Consumption by Source and Sector, 2017
The electric power sector generates most of the electricity in the United States while the remaining sectors consume most of the electricity.

The Future of Energy in America

Consumers, corporations, and policymakers are leading the push to transition our electricity system to be more diversified, with less energy being produced by coal and more being produced by renewable sources like wind and solar. Several Midwest states including Michigan, Minnesota, and Illinois have set ambitious policy goals to increase their renewable energy production as aging coal power plants are closed. Corporations across the country are turning to renewable energy, both to satisfy shareholder demands, and to lock-in low electricity prices over a multi-year period.

71 of the Fortune 100 companies have targets for clean energy purchases. According to a report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory released in November 2017, 6.3 million voluntary customers purchased 95 million MWh of renewable electricity in 2016, which represents a 19 percent increase in sales over 2015.

Siting Challenges

Despite the clear need and economic pressure to increase wind and solar electricity production across the Midwest, new wind farms and solar arrays face significant and growing siting hurdles. Siting is the need to locate wind turbines and solar farms on pieces of land. Doing so requires negotiations, contracts, permits, and community relations – all of which can increase costs and delay or kill projects, resulting in reduced energy supply.
In some cases, opposition has led to restrictive zoning ordinances, moratoria, and statewide curtailment of new development. Although many groups including wind and solar companies, trade organizations, and environmental advocates are making efforts to address the current siting challenges, in many cases these efforts have not been as effective as they need to be.

As these challenges have increased, the Sterling Team has taken a leadership role across the Midwest to address these siting challenges. Our energy work in this lane combines our Public Affairs acumen, messaging skills, and campaign experience to build an effective public relations effort to promote the broad benefits of siting wind and solar projects.  The work we are doing brings energy policy and economic development to life in rural communities across the Midwest and enhances our energy supply for the future.

Our success in siting will allow future generations to flip on the light switch, turn on the air conditioning, or cook a meal with a reliable and renewable energy source for the future.

Denise DeCook is a senior director at Sterling Corporation, an Lambert company.