Michigan State Rep. Pauline Wendzel (R-Watervliet) speaks against clean energy expansion legislation on Thursday, November 2. (Photo: Anna Liz Nichols)
In a marathon session that stretched from Thursday morning into the early hours on Friday, the Democratic-controlled Michigan House pushed forward on their clean energy priorities, voting on a slate of Senate bills addressing clean energy, energy waste and affordability, alongside a package of House bills giving state regulators authority over permitting clean energy projects.
The House, which convened at 10 a.m., didn’t start taking up the energy bills until more than 12 hours later after a long day of negotiations among Democratic leaders.
Following a flurry of amendments to a number of the bills and fierce Republican opposition, Democrats mustered the votes to advance policies to address climate change, including setting updated clean energy and energy waste reduction standards, providing energy regulators with additional priorities for regulation, allowing farmers to rent their land to solar energy companies, providing state regulators with authority over large-scale clean energy permitting and creating an office to facilitate transitions from fossil fuel to clean energy jobs.
“Michigan has an opportunity right now with this legislation to set a plan to No. 1, allow our state to open the door for businesses and say all the free technology that is in other all the other states can come settle right here in the Great Lakes State,” said House Majority Floor Leader Abraham Aiyash (D-Hamtramck).
“All the energy that can be harvested from the sun and the wind can actually be made right here in Michigan,” Aiyash said.
Last week, the Senate passed a number of pieces of its Clean Energy Future package, including Senate Bill 271, which requires energy companies to meet a 100% clean energy standard by 2040; Senate Bill 273 which increasing the state’s energy waste reduction standards and creates goals for further energy savings and Senate Bill 502 which instructs the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) — the body that regulates Michigan energy companies — to weigh factors like equity, environmental justice, affordability, public health and more when reviewing energy companies’ operations plans.
House Democrats introduced a number of changes to the Clean Energy Standard passed by the Senate, which would require energy companies to generate 50% of their energy through renewable sources by 2030 and 60% by 2035 and included sources like biomass, landfill gas made from solid waste, gas from methane digesters using municipal sewage waste, food waste and animal manure, and energy-generating incinerators in operation before Jan. 1, 2023.
It would also require energy companies to meet a 100% clean energy standard by 2040 which would include nuclear power and natural gas using 90% effective carbon capture technology.
New additions in the House version include adding independent combined-cycle power plants running on natural gas that complies with the clean energy standard through reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to the definition of a clean energy system. It also places restrictions on energy generating-incinerators generating power before Jan. 1, 2023, by allowing these facilities to be considered a renewable energy system before 2040 unless the incinerator is expanded.
A decommissioning plan for these incinerators must be filed Jan. 1, 2035, detailing plans to retire the facility no later than Jan. 1, 2040.
Rep. Dylan Wegela (D-Garden City) offered an amendment to strike natural gas as a clean energy source from Senate Bill 271, noting the negative environmental impacts of natural gas on communities of color. The amendment was not adopted.
The House also adopted 25 amendments to House Bill 5120, the first bill in the clean energy jobs package that would give the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) authority over the permitting of large-scale renewable energy projects.
The large number of amendments caused a stir among Republicans, who moved to caucus ahead of voting to determine what was in the final version of House Bill 5120.
Before voting on the remaining bills in each package, a host of House Republicans — including Reps. Pauline Wendzel (R-Watervilet), Bryan Posthumus (R-Cannon Twp.) and Alicia St. Germaine (R-Harrison Twp.) — voiced strong opposition to the policies, raising concerns that the policies would raise energy costs, lower reliability and strip control over renewable energy projects from communities.
“The people of Michigan have the right to say no. The overall thrust of this package is that the state is going to force everyone to rely on unreliable technology whether we like it or not, whether we want it or not, and whether the technology is effective or not,” said Rep. Andrew Fink (R-Adams Twp.).
House Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Richland Twp.) told reporters ahead of voting on the energy bills that Republicans wanted to see more done for energy reliability and affordability.
“You know, what are we doing? Why aren’t they doing more to require that these lines be buried? I mean, one of the key things that we know is that when the lines are buried and they’re underground, we don’t have the outages from wind or snow storms and all that. So why aren’t we doing more about reliability? And why aren’t we doing more about affordability of energy,” Hall said.
He also predicted that the legislation would help the GOP in the 2024 election.
“Today is the day that we can say the Republicans are going to take the House back because these Democrats that are voting to raise energy bills and they’re voting to take away their townships’ and city’s and village’s local control over these energy projects,” Hall said.
During the vote on Senate Bill 271, Rep. Tom Kunse (R-Clare) opted to recuse himself due to his business involvement with Consumers Energy, one of Michigan’s largest energy providers.
Republicans also challenged the vote of Rep. Joey Andrews (D-St. Joseph) vote on the bill, citing a conflict of interest.
Andrews is an owner of Parasol Solar, a rooftop solar energy company, and his sister, Nealie Andrews, has lobbied for clean energy groups, according to a report from the Detroit News.
The challenge to Andrews’ vote was unsuccessful.
Rep. Sarah Lightner (R-Springport) chose to recuse herself from voting on Senate Bill 277, but it was not clear why.
While Republicans argued the two packages would harm residents, Democrats say these bills will provide Michigan with an opportunity to lead in clean energy.
“We are on track now to have some of the highest-paying clean energy jobs in the country,” Aiyash said.
Aiyash also said provisions in the energy siting package that require the companies performing construction or maintenance work to enter into project labor agreements would benefit hardworking Michiganders, with workers receiving higher wages, more benefits and creating a higher level of competition for skilled workers.
Aiyash broke down some of the changes to the package, noting that the version of House Bill 5120 that passed the House includes provisions that would require developers to go through localities first when applying for permits.
“So the way this process would work is locals now have an opportunity to set up a process and if they set up a process, so long as it matches similar state standards a developer would be required to go through this local process first,” Aiyash said.
As long as a township has a legitimate technical or health issue, communities would not be forced to host unwanted renewable projects, Aiyash said.
Additionally, these bills do not contain an eminent domain aspect, meaning someone’s property would not be taken in order to site renewable energy, Aiyash said.
“This only happens if a landowner voluntarily decides to enter into an agreement with the developer and chooses to lease their land. So this actually gives landowners a lot of flexibility and freedom,” Aiyash said.
Additionally, the developers are required to pay up to $75,000 to cover costs for an attorney intervening in a contested proceeding at the MPSC. Developers must also pay $2,000 per megawatt of the energy system’s capacity to the local government of the community where the system is hosted, with the money going towards police, fire, public safety, infrastructure, or for other projects as agreed to by the local unit and the applicant.
When asked about Republicans’ reliability concerns, Aiyash said House Democrats have already introduced measures aimed at affordability and reliability.
“I have not seen my Republican counterparts for the last 40 years address reliability and affordability in the state of Michigan. And I would say in the last 12 years where my House Republican colleagues have held the gavel, we’ve actually seen a decrease in reliability in the state of Michigan and an increase in costs,” Aiyash said.
Senate Bills 271, 273, 502 and 519 will return to the Senate for further consideration, with House Bills 5120 and 5121 set to move to the committee process in the Senate.
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