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Energy plan bills get a committee hearing

Solar array
Solar array

Michigan legislation to support renewable energy usage received a Senate committee hearing Wednesday.

The bill package as currently written would require electric companies to generate power using only renewable energy sources by 2035.

Though, during an update last week, the bill's sponsors noted plans to move that target date back to 2040.

The legislation would also give the Michigan Public Service Commission more power to ensure utilities are meeting renewable energy goals.

MPSC chair Dan Scripps said the targets are reasonable, given how the state has responded to past standards.

"Since 2008, we've seen that renewable resources have been consistently less costly than traditional generation resources. In fact, the affordability protections included in the 2008 law have been largely redundant and most utilities have not collected a surcharge in years," Scripps told the Senate Energy and Environment Committee.

Despite that, Wednesday's three-hour-long hearing saw multiple speakers representing business interests cast doubts upon the legislation.

Mike Alaimo is the director of environmental and energy affairs with the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

Alaimo said a dramatic transition would end up raising utility costs.

"We simply don't know what the costs will be to, one, site and built the thousands of megawatts of additional generation assets and two, securitize the retirement of other generation assets prematurely," Alaimo said.

Mike Johnston of the Michigan Manufacturers Association shared a similar viewpoint during the hearing.

Johnston mentioned the large amount of electricity manufacturing operations draw upon, arguing they needed a constant, reliable source of energy. He made the case a rapid shift away from natural gas could scare business away.

"That creates a lot of uncertainty for investors if they're making billions of dollars of investment, or they're making small investments for small companies," Johnston said.

Still, a parade of speakers Wednesday argued phasing out fossil fuels would carry a variety of benefits like fighting climate change and improving health outcomes in neighborhoods around carbon fuel operations.

Justin Carpenter is with the Michigan Energy Innovation Business Council. He said there are also several economic benefits of switching to renewable energy sources.

"New clean energy projects in Michigan have already spurred more than $21.03 billion in investment, which is the second highest in the nation and created or moved forward with over 15,800 good paying, clean energy jobs, the third highest in the nation," Carpenter said.

As far as cost, Scripps said there are safeguards.

"This isn't Thelma and Louise. We're not just going to drive the car off the cliff. Guardrails are in place and if compliance becomes overly costly, we have the flexibility to modify the timelines involved," Scripps said.

The bills are part of legislative Democrats' Clean Energy Future Plan introduced in April.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer called for the lawmakers to work on similar goals during an address last month that outlined her priorities for the rest of the year.

The legislation remains in committee for more work.

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Colin Jackson is the Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network.
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