Solar panels in Meridian Township | Susan J. Demas
Michigan Senate Democrats expect to read in a new package of clean energy bills on Wednesday after announcing their MI Clean Energy Future Plan last week.
Included in the seven-bill package from Democrats, who control the Legislature, are measures that would update standards for renewable energy, establish a standard for clean fuel, create plans to phase out coal-fired power plants by 2030 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from buildings, and allowing the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) to examine factors like climate change, equity, reliability, affordability, cumulative health effects and emissions outside of carbon when evaluating public utilities.
Senate Majority Floor Leader Sam Singh (D-East Lansing) said these bills are intended to bring aspects of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s MI Healthy Climate Plan into state law including provisions to address energy affordability and clean energy opportunities for low-income families.
The Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy released the final version of the MI Healthy Climate Plan on April 21, 2022. Included in the plan are commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions throughout the state and achieving economy-wide carbon neutrality by 2050.
While the MPSC — which sets regulations for electrical and telecommunications companies — approved new rules intended to improve electrical reliability, lawmakers would include reliability as a standard in the commission’s evaluation process.
“My bill explicitly allows the MPSC to regulate utilities based on reliability, which is something that we know is a huge problem,” Shink said. “A couple of times a year we have massive power outages. They’re higher than the number of power outages other similar utilities have across the country.”
“We need to give the MPSC this authority if we want it to change. And I heard loud and clear from the people of my district and many others that they want change,” Shink said.
By allowing the MPSC to consider equity in the regulation process, the commission can assess electrical availability and rate costs in communities impacted by environmental injustice, Shink said.
These communities are often made up of higher proportions of people of color and people who are economically struggling, Shink said. These residents often suffer the worst effects of pollution from power generation and are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
The Advance contacted the office of Sen. John Damoose (R-Harbor Springs) for comment on the package, but Damoose declined until he had more information on the bills, saying he would after the package begins receiving committee hearings. Damoose serves as the Republican vice chair of the Senate Energy and Environment Committee after replacing Dan Lauwers (R-Brockway).
Senate Republicans have also proposed changes to address transparency and accountability within utility companies, with Sen. Jim Runestad (R-White Lake) pledging to introduce legislation which would require MPSC commissioners to be elected through statewide vote rather than appointment by the governor, and establish lobbying transparency requirements for utility companies.
Alongside the bills set to be read in on Wednesday, Senate Democrats said they are working on additional efforts including plans to promote the adoption and support for electric vehicles, and an effort to address energy affordability.
“We’re going to look at a number of different ideas and topics. We know that, obviously, energy costs hit everybody, but obviously there’s a disproportionate effect on low income families,” Singh said.
Alongside addressing affordability, Singh said Senate Democrats are looking at incentives for landlords to winterize their properties to make them more energy efficient and help reduce utility costs for renters. They are also looking at other ways to take advantage of federal programs and incoming funding to promote home energy efficiency and ways to give low-income families access to solar energy.
In March, Sens. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) and Ed McBroom (R-Waucedah Twp.) introduced Senate Bills 152 and 153, which would allow electrical customers to subscribe to subscribe to community solar projects, where community members, businesses and other organizations with available space can install solar arrays and share the energy with other community members.
“These small-scale, local solar projects will be particularly useful to residents, providing an opportunity to independently produce energy for themselves and their neighbors, and providing savings on energy bills for those who subscribe,” McBroom said in a statement.
As Michigan transitions to green energy solutions, Shink and Singh both noted their commitment to providing a just transition and resources for workers as their jobs begin to change.
“My hope is that as you’re building more renewable energy throughout the state, that those are going to be opportunities for especially our building trades to continue to do good work building these new systems,” Singh said.
Across the state, environmental and energy advocacy groups have praised the Senate’s clean energy package as a strong starting point.
“It’s a really strong set of policies that will have transformational and positive changes for our energy systems here in Michigan,” said Nick Dodge, spokesperson for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.
“We see a lot of really immense opportunities for creating clean energy jobs and rebuilding and retrofitting homes and businesses and buildings to make them more energy efficient,” Dodge said.
While utilities will bear a large share in the transition to clean, renewable energy, Dodge says there is an opportunity for all Michiganders to participate through efforts like expanding access to rooftop and community solar energy projects.
Additionally, federal funding from the Infrastructure Investment Jobs Act (Public Law No. 117-58) and the Inflation Reduction Act (Public Law No. 117-169) gives Michigan the means to achieve meaningful clean energy policy change, Dodge said.
Jane McCurry, executive director of Clean Fuels Michigan, said the clean fuels standard is a top priority for the organization, because of its market-based approach to reducing emissions from transportation fuels.
“What the standard does is it sets a carbon intensity cap on transportation emissions, and then it creates a credit market,” McCurry said.
“Fuel suppliers that produce fuels that are more carbon intensive, or produce more greenhouse gas emissions than the standard generate deficits. Fuel providers that provide fuels below the standard generate credits,” McCurry said.
As a result, the standard reduces emissions from all transportation fuels on the market and provides large incentives for the cleanest fuels, like green hydrogen and electric vehicles powered by renewable energy, McCurry said. It also makes the market more viable for those types of fuels and encourages more infrastructure like hydrogen refueling centers or high-power electric vehicle chargers.
However, representatives from the Michigan Environmental Council criticized the clean fuels standard. While the environmental policy organization supported other aspects of the Clean Energy Future Plan, it argues that the clean fuels standard promotes blending ethanol into our fuel, which has negative environmental impacts on both emissions, and on soil and water quality.
Ethanol is a fuel blend often made using corn, and one of the biggest quantities of biofuel in our fuel supply. However, corn is an extremely nutrient dependent crop. While corn makes up 23% of U.S. cropland, it receives 40% of the fertilizer, said Megan Tinsley, water policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council.
Because corn requires more fertilizer, it can lead to an overabundance of nutrients which can spread to waterways and cause issues like toxic algal blooms, Tinsley said.
Additionally, when ethanol burns it causes an increase in smog formation, generating more noxious compounds, Tinsley said.
“Environmental policy is complicated, and sometimes we do need to make trade-offs, but there’s nothing in my mind that makes corn ethanol a positive in any circumstance,” Tinsley said.
While Singh acknowledged not every policy in the bill package would be universally liked, he welcomed feedback and testimony on the bills.
Rather than promoting fuels that could create environmental issues, Tinsley said the council would like to see solutions that promote consumer access to electric vehicles and public transit.
When updating building codes for climate readiness, the Senate could implement standards to ensure new buildings have the capacity for electric vehicle chargers and parking lots have conduits for chargers, McCurry said. This would substantially reduce the cost for installing chargers later on, she said.
Whitmer also included provisions in her Fiscal Year 2024 budget recommendation to promote the transition to electrical vehicles, including a temporary pause on the sales and use tax on purchasing electric vehicles, and funding to expand charging networks and transition fleets of school buses and government vehicles to electric and green energy vehicles.
As the state transitions to 100% clean energy sources, Singh said lawmakers are looking to be pragmatic as they move forward with solutions.
While nuclear energy is included in the proposed amendments to the clean and renewable energy and energy waste reduction act, Singh said the provision intended to allow current nuclear plants to continue operating instead of shutting them down.
“I know that nuclear will have its detractors and there will be issues that people will have about it. But you know, if the goal is to be carbon-free and reduce those types of emissions, nuclear is a part of that solution — especially since it’s already in existence right now,” Singh said.
“My hope is there will be a future legislature who will begin to look at what new technology has come on board. What is battery storage looking like? What is geothermal looking like? The hope is that we’ll have a lot more technology.”
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