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Issues Of The Environment: Pushing For "Energy Freedom" In The Michigan Legislature

Mar 11, 2020

Michigan Conservative Energy Forum (MICEF) executive director Ed Rivet
Credit Michigan Conservative Energy Forum / micef.org

A series of "energy freedom" bills, which would allow customers to diversify energy generation and usage is before the Michigan Legislature.  For this week's "Issues of the Environment," WEMU's David Fair talks with Ed Rivet, executive director of the Michigan Conservative Energy Forum, about a new strategy to move the measures forward. 


Overview

  • Since 2014, bipartisan support has existed for Michigan legislation aimed at empowering utility customers to diversify their electricity sources.  Lobbying, primary in the interests of major utility providers, has caused these bills to fail time and again.
  • The so-called "energy freedom" bills seek to expand microgrids and community solar, as well as improve rates that customers receive for power sent back to the grid. 
  • In the past three sessions, the bills were combined into a single package and failed to make it out of committee.  Now, lawmakers and advocates are trying a new strategy by introducing the bills one at a time, separating what can be individually complex topics.
    • A bill allowing entities like hospitals and public safety departments to establish microgrids was introduced in April 2019.  This bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Yousef Rabhi of Ann Arbor and others and follows years of advocacy by former Representative and current State Senator Jeff Irwin
    • A bill requiring utilities to allow customers to join “community renewable energy” projects was introduced last September.  This bill is co-sponsored by Representiatives Yousef Rabhi (D-Ann Arbor) and Ronnie Peterson (D-Ypsilanti).
    • A bill package to encourage distributed generation by restoring net metering and establish a “fair value of solar” was announced in October 2019.

 

  • In addition to these three bills, Michigan’s renewable energy standard has helped spur utility investments in clean energy over the past decade, but that may end after next year when the state targets level off at 15% renewable generation.  There’s growing consensus among clean energy advocates and lawmakers that Michigan needs to press forward, either eliminating carbon emissions or fossil fuels from its electricity portfolio by 2050.  But how the state gets there and the role of renewable energy standards are unclear, particularly as renewable prices fall and utilities make voluntary pledges to clean up their generation.
  • In January 2020, the Michigan Public Services Commission rejected DTE’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), sending it back for revisions because it used outdated modeling in outlining the benefits of renewable energy and relied too heavily on natural gas.
  • Ed Rivet, Executive Director of the Michigan Conservative Energy Forum (MICEF), says distributed electrical distribution is coming, whether the big utilities like it or not.  MICEF believes the renewable energy targets are no longer needed and that free-market demand will suffice if they are dissolved. 
  • Democratic supporters of clean energy tend to disagree.  The current 15% standard is “laughably low,” said state Representative Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor, the lead sponsor of a bill that sets a 100% target.  The bill, HB 5420, has 29 Democratic co-sponsors.  A year and a half ago, a similar bill Rabhi introduced had one co-sponsor.

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu