Wildfires and extreme weather prompt Michigan lawmakers to debut new clean energy legislation

By: - June 21, 2023 3:47 am

Bond Mill Pond Fire in Wexford County, 2018 | Michigan Department of Natural Resources photo

Democratic members of the Michigan House are responding to wildfires and extreme weather events in recent months by putting forth a set of bills that would seek to move Michigan’s energy sector to carbon-free alternatives and prioritize energy efficiency programming for low-income communities.

State Speaker Pro Tempore Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) said that the effects of climate change are already being felt in the Great Lakes region, and will only continue to exacerbate if further legislative action isn’t taken on clean energy advancements. 

State Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) addresses the Michigan House, Feb. 15, 2023 | Laina G. Stebbins

“The environment reminded us of how urgent the situation actually is,” Pohutsky said. “Ice storms earlier this year left hundreds of thousands of Michiganders without power, some for a week or more. Wildfires in Canada and right here in Michigan blanketed much of the northern half of the country with smoke, drastically affecting air quality.”

House Bills 4759, 4760 and 4761, sponsored by Pohutsky and Reps. Abraham Aiyash (D-Hamtramck) and Betsy Coffia (D-Traverse City) were introduced to act as an addition to the MI Healthy Climate Plan, which was derived from an executive directive by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) in 2020. 

Pohutsky said that while the plan was comprehensive in making Michigan a leader in decarbonizing its electric grid, there were updates needed due to drastic changes in weather in the time since the plan was initially configured. 

“We already knew [in 2020] that extreme weather was negatively affecting Michiganders’ lives and livelihoods more frequently, but that would become even more apparent in subsequent years,” Pohutsky said.

HB 4759 would establish a 60% standard for renewable energy in Michigan’s portfolio by 2030, and a 100% carbon-free target by 2035. Coffia, who sponsors the bill, said that her northern Michigan district would depend on policies like these to maintain its way of life. 

“People may rightly associate northern Michigan, my home area, with fresh air and a beautiful clean environment,” Coffia said. “We feel so strongly in the north that we need to act now to keep it that way. So much of our way of life up north depends on a healthy and clean environment, not least of which is our critical tourism economy.”

Coffia’s bill would also require that utilities within these clean energy sectors include distributed generation programs, or energy sources generated near use as opposed to off-site plants that would be accessible to low-income areas or communities of color. Similar legislation promoting community solar projects has been introduced in the Michigan Senate. 

“Community and rooftop solar projects are not just for the wealthy,” Coffia said. “Everyone should have access to local small to medium scale renewable energy projects.”

The proposal goes hand-in-hand with HB 4761, which Aiyash said would lower energy costs for low-income communities by reducing energy waste. The cheapest energy, Aiyash said, is “the energy we don’t consume.” 

“These changes will increase efficiency, affordability and accessibility for Michigan’s utility customers, while also ensuring that we are creating good paying jobs across the state as we move to a cleaner and more just Michigan,” Aiyash said.

Lawmakers revive bipartisan community solar efforts as Dems work toward clean energy goals

The third bill in the package, HB 4760, would allow the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) to consider climate factors like wildfires or extreme weather when regulating the state’s utilities, and require the commission to hold listening sessions with affected communities when making decisions based on environmental changes. 

“My bill provides tools necessary to achieve several of the goals from the MI Healthy Climate plan, mitigating the impacts of extreme weather, addressing environmental injustice and making green energy available and affordable,” Pohutsky said.

Rep. Rachel Hood (D-Grand Rapids), who has previously introduced bills promoting community solar projects, said that the package, which is under consideration by the House Committee on Energy, Communications and Technology, would take advantage of a unique intersection of the prioritization of clean energy with a surplus of money to make it happen. 

“This is truly a pivotal moment in our state’s future as it relates to energy management,” Hood said. “Thanks to an influx of funding from the federal government that can now go towards clean energy and green infrastructure, we have a unique opportunity to build out solar at very little cost to the state.”


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Lily Guiney
Lily Guiney

Lily is a contributor to the Michigan Advance and a former reporting intern. Her coverage areas included state government and politics, including abortion rights and gun violence prevention issues.