By ALLISON MIRIANI
Capital News Service
LANSING — “Being one of the few guys in the Michigan Legislature that’s actually had five years of chemistry,” Rep. Stephen Ehardt, R-Lexington, believes the NextEnergy plan is a good idea.
“Good, reusable, alternative fuel cells are very important to our society and this approach seems to have the most promise,” Ehardt said.
NextEnergy is an economic development plan to help promote research, development, commercialization and manufacture of alternative energy technologies such as hydrogen fuel cells.
Engler announced the plan April 18 at Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn.
Engler said the market for fuel-cell products is expected to grow to $95 billion by 2010. Not acting on a plan could jeopardize nearly 200,000 Michigan jobs related to the engineering and manufacture of engines and transmissions, Engler said.
“The heart of NextEnergy is transforming our cluster of auto innovation into a cluster of energy innovation,” Engler said. “NextEnergy will power Michigan’s future.”
Sen. Alan Sanborn, R-Richmond, said he is happy with the plan.
“I’m excited that John Engler is leaving office the way he came in — with a vision to continue to move Michigan forward,” Sanborn said. “In this case with fuel-cell research.”
The Small Business Association of Michigan is enthusiastic about the plan. SBAM has helped to develop the alternative fuels industry by helping small companies get funding for research, said Barry Cargill, the organization’s vice president of government relations.
“We commend the governor for making this a priority,” Cargill said. “We think Michigan should aggressively seize this opportunity to help make Michigan the world leader in this arena.”
The plan would do several things. A University of Michigan-affiliated facility would serve as a resource on energy technologies, develop college courses and provide assistance and funding to industry-university collaborative research and commercialization projects.
A 700-acre site in York Township in Washtenaw County could become a center for fuel-cell research. Companies established would receive a tax rebate based on jobs created in the zone.
“Changing our sources of energy and the way we use our energy is the best way to protect the global environment,” said Lana Pollack of Ann Arbor, president of the Michigan Environmental Council.
Fuel cells, two to three times more efficient than an internal combustion engine, produce electricity, water and heat using fuel and oxygen in the air; the only emission from a fuel-cell powered car is water.
It is estimated that regulated pollutants in the air would be reduced by one million tons per year if 10 percent of automobiles nationwide were fuel-cell powered, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
“It is important that we don’t take our dominance in the auto industry for granted,” Ehardt said. “It is not a birthright for Michigan to have this auto industry.”
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism
By ALLISON MIRIANI