Lawmakers, advocates tout environmental and economic benefits of renewable energy bills ⋆

Democratic lawmakers joined with environmental advocates in Lansing on Tuesday to outline their plans for a clean energy future in Michigan. 

State Senate Majority Floor Leader Sam Singh (D-East Lansing), Sen. Sue Shink (D-Northville) and Rep. Jenn Hill (D-Marquette) shared updates on policies introduced last month as part of Senate Democrats’ legislative package to enable the state’s transition to renewable energy and noted additional plans for sweeping environmental change in Michigan. 

Representatives from the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association, Michigan Clinicians for Climate Action and Michigan United joined lawmakers in support of clean energy policies, outlining how these efforts could benefit Michigan’s economy as well as residents bearing the brunt of pollution and climate change. 

“We know our communities have been asking us to take action. They want us to be bold,” Singh said at Tuesday’s press conference held outside the state Capitol. “We’re excited that within our state Senate caucus that we had significant support to bring some of these ideas forward.”

In April, Senate Democrats introduced a package of bills they named the “Clean Energy Future Plan.” The package includes Senate Bills 271 through 277.

Senate Majority Leader Sam Singh (D-East Lansing) answers questions on clean energy at a press conference on May 23, 2023. | Kyle Davidson

One of the bills Singh introduced as part of the package would focus on reducing energy waste in Michigan.. This will help save residents money and would reduce the state’s energy burden, leading to lower spending on energy overall, Singh said.

Singh and his colleagues also introduced bills that move the state to a carbon-free energy system by 2035, with lawmakers pushing to phase out coal-fired energy plants by 2030.

According to Martin Kushler, a senior fellow at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, Michigan’s reliance on importing coal, natural gas, oil and petroleum for energy results in a drain of more than $18 billion a year.

In June, the Senate Energy and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on bills included in the Clean Energy Future Plan, Singh said.

Shink outlined further aspects of this plan, including Senate Bill 272, which would allow the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) to consider factors like affordability, reliability and climate impacts when assessing and crafting regulations for Michigan energy companies. 

Michigan’s major energy utilities have come under fire for years due to high energy rates and large scale outages, including outages earlier this year that left hundreds of thousands of Michiganders without power for days, prompting an inquiry from the House Energy, Communications and Technology Committee.

Members of the House have since established a bipartisan Energy Reliability, Resilience and Accountability Task Force, which will spend the summer touring the state and listening to residents who lost power in order to craft policy recommendations to address outages in the state.

Shink also introduced Senate Bill 274, which would direct the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) to create requirements for builders to construct carbon-neutral buildings by 2026.

“This is going to take some work,” Shink said. “A lot of stakeholders are giving their input, we’re working with the House. And we’ll be working with the departments to make sure that this is a realistic standard.”

Max Kendall, an environmental justice organizer for Michigan United discusses the importance of ensuring low-income communities and people of color are included and supported by the state’s transition to clean energy. | Kyle Davidson

Alongside legislation in the Senate, Hill alluded to upcoming bills in the House to support clean energy, including one of her efforts that would support battery storage and other storage options for renewable energy. 

Clean energy policies, including those introduced by Singh and Shink, create opportunities for good paying middle-class jobs weatherizing homes and building clean energy technology and batteries, Hill said.

“There is a place for everyone in the clean energy future in Michigan: Electricians wiring energy efficient buildings and renewable energy projects. Carpenters retrofitting our homes. Line workers, making sure that the batteries are doing the best they can for our grid,” Hill said. 

Earlier this year, Sens. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) and Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) introduced a set of bills that would allow Michiganders to subscribe to community solar projects, where businesses, local governments and community groups can install solar arrays and share the generated energy with other community members.

As lawmakers and communities in Michigan push for clean energy, Shink said this transition can’t be done without cooperation from energy utilities. 

“Are the major utilities in the state receptive to a clean energy future? If you watch the ads, they’re already there, right? If you look at the reality, it’s not quite the same as the ads,” Shink said. 

“If they’re openly, and actively supporting [clean energy] legislation we’ll know they’re on board,” Shink said.

Consumers Energy, one of Michigan’s largest energy companies, is currently working to add 1,100 megawatts of utility-scale solar to its grid by the end of next year, and almost 8,000 megawatts by 2040, according to an emailed statement from spokesperson Brian Wheeler. However, the company views Irwin’s and McBroom’s community solar bills as unnecessary, arguing it would lead to higher energy rates for customers.

Democratic lawmakers met with environmental and clean energy advocates at a press conference held May 23, 2023 | Kyle Davidson

John Freeman, executive director of the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association, argued that a pivot to renewable energy would save money for consumers.

“For every homeowner or business or farmer that’s able to obtain renewable energy, they’re going to save a lot of money because the electricity that’s generated from renewable energy costs less than what they purchase from the utilities,” Freeman said.

Additionally, by saving money on energy costs, businesses can reinvest in themselves, hiring new workers and expanding their company, Freeman said.

Freeman said the transition to green energy will also create a large number of jobs building and installing solar arrays, wind turbines, and electrical vehicle chargers, as well as rehabilitating homes to be more energy efficient.

These efforts also have the support of federal funding from the Infrastructure Investment Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act.

“We as a state need to take advantage of every single federal dollar we can, because that’s going to act as an economic stimulus,” Freeman said. 

Having the right policy framework is key for renewable energy efforts, which is why the pending clean energy bills are critical, Freeman said.

In addition to benefits for the economy, clean energy efforts also provide support for communities that are most burdened by pollution from power generation and particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, supporters said. 

“When corporations and corporations decide to pollute, they target the most vulnerable, and they target Black and brown communities,” said Max Kendall, an environmental policy organizer for Michigan United, an organization that advocates for economic and racial justice. 

“Taking action on climate change is truly a kitchen table issue,” said Wesley Watson, the West Michigan regional coordinator for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. | Kyle Davidson

Michigan is facing a critical turning point where it must begin creating the grid of the future, which means accelerating efforts in energy efficiency, switching to clean energy sources, and expanding access to cost-saving environmentally beneficial resources to ensure no communities are left behind, Kendall said.

Michigan has an opportunity like never before to invest in its citizens, protect its air and water, create jobs and tackle issues of climate change and environmental justice, said Wesley Watson, West Michigan regional coordinator for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.

“Taking action on climate change is truly a kitchen table issue,” Watson said.

“It means upgrades across the state, especially in low-income communities, lowering costs, putting money back in people’s pockets and reducing energy usage to lower costs for families, creating good paying jobs that don’t require a college degree. It means protecting our health and protecting our future for all of us, regardless of income, or regardless of zip code,” Watson said.

authored by Kyle Davidson
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