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Sparring over clean energy standards continues at committee hearing

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Sparring over clean energy standards continues at committee hearing

Sep 21, 2023 | 3:52 am ET
By Kyle Davidson
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Sparring over clean energy standards continues at committee hearing
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Solar panels in Meridian Township | Susan J.Demas

The Senate Energy and Environment Committee heard additional testimony on bills aimed at transitioning Michigan to renewable energy at its Wednesday meeting, following changes to proposed clean energy and waste reduction standards. 

The committee heard testimony on three bills, one that would transition Michigan to 100% clean energy sources, another establishing new energy waste reduction targets and incentives and another, which would set priorities for the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) to consider when regulating energy companies in the state. 

All three bills were initially introduced in April as part of the Senate’s Clean Energy Future Plan, a package of bills aimed at bringing aspects of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s MI Healthy Climate Plan into state law. 

Whitmer called on lawmakers to pass a clean energy standard and enact policies promoting energy efficiency and reducing energy waste with members of the House introducing a similar package of clean energy bills in June. 

Sparring over clean energy standards continues at committee hearing
State Sen. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor), March 14, 2023 | Laina G. Stebbins

The committee heard testimony on two of the bills — Senate Bills 271 and 273 — prior to the Legislature’s summer break, the bills have seen changes since they were initially introduced. The bill’s sponsors, state Sens. Sam Singh (D-East Lansing) and Erika Geiss (D-Taylor), gave updates on the changes to the bills during the committee meeting last week. Although the bills were initially included on the agenda for last week’s committee meeting, they were dropped due to a delay in drafting bills to reflect changes in the legislation. 

Notably, Geiss’ Senate Bill 271 adjusted its timeline for energy companies to offer 100% renewable sources from 2035 to 2040, with utilities now being required to generate 80% of their power from renewable sources by 2035 and would include components for carbon capture technology. The bill also updated language on good-cause extensions for companies who try but are unable to meet a renewable energy standard to allow companies up to two extensions not exceeding two years each. 

The changes would also include provisions for zero carbon hydrogen and carbon capture and storage, as well as grandfathering in existing commercial biomass fuel plants as renewable sources when the bill takes effect. It also includes an electricity storage component, requiring energy companies to construct, contract or require a total of 2500 of energy storage systems by 2030, Geiss said. 

Singh’s Senate Bill 273 would now increase the energy waster reduction standard from 1% to 1.5% of total annual electrical sales, with an incentive goal to meet the previously proposed 2% standard, he said. It would also increase the waste reduction target for natural gas companies from .75% of their total annual retail gas sale to 1%.

The committee also considered Senate Bill 502, sponsored by Sen. Sue Shink (D-Northfield Twp.), which would require the Michigan Public Service Commission to prioritize specific goals while regulating energy utilities, including reliability, safety and resilience of energy systems, service quality, affordability, as well as goals focused on ensuring equitable access to energy efficiency, weatherization, home electrification and clean energy technology and compliance with state clean energy standard goals. 

During the meeting, MPSC Chair Dan Scripps offered support for the bills addressing concerns of cost, reliability and supply chain for solar panels. 

“I want to ground my comments today in the mission of the Public Service Commission to serve the public by ensuring safe, reliable and accessible energy and telecommunication services at reasonable rates,” Scripps said.

In his testimony, Scripps said the updated clean energy standard proposed a clear path to 100% clean energy by 2040, provided meaningful improvements to the state’s energy efficiency programs and enhanced the commission’s ability to consider climate and environmental justice in evaluating long term energy plans. 

Sparring over clean energy standards continues at committee hearing
Michigan Public Service Commission Chair Dan Scripps. | Kyle Davidson

He also said the clean energy standard legislation provides the commission with significant flexibility, including authority to review renewable energy plans for investor-owned utilities similar to the process that’s been in place since 2008.

It would also allow the commission to adjust compliance timelines on a utility-by-utility basis, to maintain grid reliability, affordability, voltage stability or to address supply chain constraints, Scripps said.

Scripps also said that since the state enacted the Clean and Renewable Energy and Energy Waste Reduction Act in 2008, renewable resources have been consistently less costly than traditional energy generation sources. 

Members of the Michigan Environmental Council, Michigan League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council also offered testimony in favor of the bills, highlighting the need to act on climate change as well as address energy reliability and affordability in communities facing the largest climate impacts.

When asked by Sen. John Damoose (R-Harbor Springs) if passing these policies in Michigan would help keep the globe below dangerous warming levels, Charlotte Jameson, chief policy officer of the Michigan Environmental Council, said every nation, state and population has a responsibility to act on climate change.

“I can’t control what India or China does, but you guys have an opportunity to do something right for Michigan,” Jameson said.

Nicholas Occhipinti, state government affairs director also noted the localized health impacts air pollution and contamination from energy generation can have on a community, including direct links to cardiovascular and pulmonary issues, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Other groups advocated for additional tweaks to the legislation.

Carlo Cavallaro, Midwest regional director for the coalition for Community Solar Access, outlined concerns that Senate Bill 271 did not do enough to maximize the benefits of community solar energy in its current form. 

Written testimony from Fieldworks Power, a community-scale solar developer, offered similar criticism, saying the bill needs additional language to allow the Michigan Public Service Commission to establish a viable community solar program in the state. 

Members of the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition also offered concerns over the inclusions of hydrogen and carbon capture and storage technologies in the bill. They also called for a return to the more aggressive clean energy standard of 100% renewables by 2035.

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“This is ambitious, obviously. People will say it’s unrealistic, but it’s necessary ambition. Let’s not forget that failure to rein in corporate polluters is a very reason we faced such a dire timeline on climate change in the first place,” said Roshan Krishnan, policy associate for the coalition. 

Other organizations called for broader standards on what qualifies as a renewable resource. 

Written testimony from the American Forest and Paper Association called on lawmakers to retain biomass as an eligible renewable energy resource and remove the language limiting eligibility to existing biomass systems. 

Singh said he expects the bills will see additional revisions taking into account written testimony and comments from the meeting. He said another set of drafts could be sent to stakeholders as early as the end of the week.