Michigan’s Energy Future Still in Limbo as Legislature Breaks for Summer

June 21, 2016 | 3:08 pm
Sam Gomberg
Senior Analyst

The Michigan legislature failed again to come to agreement on energy policy last week as they broke for summer recess, with proposals waiting for a vote in both the House and the Senate. One thing is clear: both proposals still need a lot of work if they are going to truly move Michigan toward a sustainable, reliable, and affordable electricity supply.

Senate shows no love for renewables and efficiency

The Michigan legislature failed to find consesnus on energy legislation before breaking for summer recess. Photo: © Creative Commons/Brian Charles Watson (Wikimedia)

The Michigan legislature failed again to find consensus on energy legislation before breaking for summer recess. We’re now heading into year three of energy debate at the capitol. Photo: Brian Charles Watson/CC BY (Wikimedia)

Much of the action over the last couple months has been in the Senate, where there seems to be very little that folks agree on.

But even as Senator Nofs—who as Chair of the Senate Energy Committee is leading the charge—put forth draft after draft for consideration, not one of them would have moved Michigan forward on renewable energy or energy efficiency. In fact, all of them moved the state backwards—repealing the state’s successful renewable energy and energy efficiency standards and replacing them with unenforceable goals or a weak integrated resource planning (IRP) process.

When it comes to clean energy, it appears politics and ideology are dominating over the analytics and evidence that clearly show how renewables and efficiency are a critical element of meeting Michigan’s goals of an affordable, sustainable, and reliable electricity system.

Mired in political ideology

If legislators are serious about achieving a cleaner, more reliable, and more affordable electricity supply for Michigan, then they should be serious about establishing strong standards for renewable energy and energy efficiency that will drive cost-effective investments in these important resources. Renewables and efficiency standards are proven policies that ensure utilities are cost-effectively diversifying electricity supplies with these low-cost and low-risk resources.

Unfortunately, many legislators continue to ignore the success of Michigan’s current clean energy standards and the evidence that highlights the importance of Michigan’s continued commitment to these resources. They prefer instead to hide behind a “no mandates” ideology that does nothing to move the ball forward.

It is the legislature’s job to pass policy that benefits and protects the people and businesses of Michigan. If mandates are proven to be an effective way to accomplish Michigan’s goal of clean, reliable, and affordable electricity, then legislators shouldn’t shy away from these policies.

A robust planning process can complement, but cannot replace, Michigan’s clean energy standards

Photo: School of Natural Resources, http://www.flickr.com/photos/snre/6505370447/in/set-72157628402664217)

Tapping into Michigan’s clean energy resources will be key to meeting the state’s goals of affordability, reliability, and sustainability. Photo: School of Natural Resources/CC BY (Flickr)

Much of the discussion has focused on how to replace Michigan’s current renewable energy and energy efficiency standards with an IRP process that would require utility planning every three or four years. But this approach is misguided in that it fails to recognize the certainty that standards provide and the full range of benefits that strong standards deliver to Michiganders.

When you have strong standards driving investments in clean energy resources, complemented by a robust IRP process that determines the most cost-effective and low risk pathway towards meeting those standards, then Michigan will have the structure in place to meet its clean energy goals while maximizing the benefits to ratepayers.

Even more troubling is that the IRP process proposed in the Senate fails in several measures including opportunities for stakeholder engagement, adequate reporting requirements for utilities, and a robust set of criteria on which to base approval or denial of utility plans to spend ratepayer dollars. Even as a complement to Michigan’s clean energy standards, the proposed IRP process falls short. As a proposed replacement, it is woefully inadequate.

In essence, what Senator Nofs has put on the table will not drive investments in Michigan’s cost-effective clean energy resources, will not ensure adequate consideration of ratepayer interests, and will not improve the reliability, sustainability, or affordability of Michigan’s electricity supply.

Back to the drawing board……again

After all the analysis, testimony, and debate around Michigan’s energy future and the demonstrated need to continue investing in renewables and efficiency, it’s hard to believe that the legislature needs to take the summer  recess to again go back to the drawing board. But as the session closed out earlier this month, that’s exactly where we are. Given all that’s at stake, let’s hope legislative leadership on both sides of the aisle come together over the break to craft a proposal that will move Michigan towards a truly diverse, affordable and sustainable energy future.