A ballot measure to expand Michigan’s renewable energy standard was soundly defeated at the polls Tuesday, after a hard-fought battle in which the measure’s opponents outspent supporters by a three-to-one margin and blanketed airwaves with ads.

As of this posting, early returns showed 73 percent of voters rejecting the measure. That figure closely tracks an exit poll of 800 people conducted by the Detroit Free Press and other media organizations showing 72 percent voting no. The measure had polled with 55 percent in favor as early as September. [UPDATE: Final returns show the measure failing with 62.3 percent voting no]

If the mandate had passed, the Michigan constitution would have been amended to require the state’s utilities to supply 25 percent of their electricity from wind, solar, biomass and hydroelectric by 2025, an increase from a current mandate of 10 percent by 2015.

“It’s a disappointment. Michigan had the opportunity in a very visible way to demonstrate leadership across the country in establishing a state policy to go to 25 percent renewable energy by 2025,” said John Sarver, executive director of Great Lakes Renewable Energy, an East Lansing, Michigan-based advocacy group that promotes renewable energy technologies.

But opponents to the renewable energy measure are celebrating the measure’s defeat.

“Voters clearly recognized that the state’s constitution is not the place for costly energy policy,” Howard Edelson, campaign manager for the Clean Affordable Renewable Energy (CARE) for Michigan Coalition, said in a statement.

“Voters understand that out-of-state billionaires should not be driving Michigan’s energy future,” Edelson said in the statement. “They also recognized the state’s hometown energy providers are continuing their commitment to renewable energy projects, and protecting the environment while keeping costs down.”

Proponents, who included state and national environmental groups, renewable energy trade groups, and unions including the United Auto Workers, argued, based on studies they commissioned, that the measure would create more than $10 billion in new investments and 74,000 jobs in Michigan, fight climate change, and promote cleaner air and better health.

But opponents, led by the CARE Coalition, which was funded largely by the parent companies of the state’s two large utilities, Consumers Energy and Detroit Edison, argued that the measure would cost consumers $12 billion in higher rates—a number renewable energy advocates strongly disputed.

Opponents also said the state constitution was an inappropriate place for a renewable energy standard. If Proposal 3 had passed, Michigan would have been the first state to incorporate such a standard into the state constitution.

Michigan’s legislature passed a law in 2008 requiring the state to obtain 10 percent of its electricity from renewable energy by 2015. Environmentalists returned to the state legislature to increase that percentage, but the legislature refused. At that point, a broad coalition of renewable energy advocates petitioned successfully to place a proposal on the ballot that would mandate in Michigan’s constitution that 25 percent of electricity should come from renewable sources by 2025.

Proposal 3 was the only state ballot initiative on renewable energy this year, and as a result both sides in the battle attracted ample funding from around the nation.

To fight the initiative, CARE spent more than $34 million paying public relations firms and blanketing the airwaves with anti-Proposal 3 ads, according to disclosures filed with the state of Michigan. Most of the money to fight spent the ballot initiative came from the two utilities.

Proponents of the initiative, led by a group called Michigan Energy, Michigan Jobs, spent $10.4 million, less than a third of opponents’ total, according to campaign disclosures filed with the Michigan Secretary of State’s office. The coalition included several members of RE-AMP, which also publishes Midwest Energy News.

Renewable energy development will continue in Michigan, but not as fast as it might have, Sarver said.

“There are too many compelling reasons for renewable energy to be used for electricity,” he said, including increasingly competitive costs and the need to reduce emissions that contribute to climate change. “The real issue is how aggressive we’re going to be” in moving to adopt renewable energy. “We needed the state policy to be aggressive,” Sarver said.

And some renewable energy advocates don’t think it was a fair fight. “With so much misinformation” put out by the measure’s opponents, “we don’t think we had a real debate,” said James Clift, policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council.

“We’ll be looking forward to continuing the discussion about the cost and public health benefits of renewable energy moving forward,” Clift said.

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