Michigan Senate advances clean energy legislation amid fierce opposition from Republicans ⋆
During a lengthy Thursday session, members of the Michigan Senate voted to advance a number of bills intended to transition the state to more clean energy sources and address the state’s energy reliability and affordability concerns.
Despite strong pushback from Republicans, the Democratic majority voted in favor of legislation to modify Michigan’s clean energy and energy waste reduction standards, provide the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) with additional priorities to consider regulating energy companies, and create an office to facilitate transitions from fossil fuel to clean energy jobs.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at Detroit’s Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. | Ken Coleman
Following the passage of the bills, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer released a statement applauding the Senate for moving forward on the legislation.
“I am grateful to the Senate for taking the first step. I look forward to the House taking action on these bills and other legislation that accelerates the deployment of clean energy soon so we can get this done,” Whitmer said.
The bills move to the Democratic-controlled House, where minority Republicans have promised to wage a fight over natural gas policy.
The Senate passed Senate Bill 271, sponsored by state Sen. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor), would require energy companies to generate 50% of their energy through renewable sources by 2030 and 60% by 2035 which would include 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.
The bill would also raise Michigan’s cap on distributed energy from 1% of a company’s average peak load to 10%, and would require energy companies to construct or acquire a total of 2,500 megawatts of energy storage systems by 2030.
Senate Bill 273, sponsored by Sen. Sam Singh (D-East Lansing), would increase the state’s energy waste reduction standard for electrical sources from 1% to 1.5% with a goal of 2%. It would also slightly increase the standard for natural gas from .75% to .875% beginning in 2026.
The bill also requires energy providers to create a low-income energy waste reduction program and direct 25% of its energy waste reduction spending to the program.
Senate Bill 502, sponsored by Sen. Sue Shink (D-Northfield Twp.), would require the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) to weigh factors like equity, environmental justice, affordability, compliance with clean energy standards and public health, among other factors when considering energy companies’ plans for future operations.
Advocates rally for clean energy as lawmakers continue to tweak legislation
It also requires the Department of Energy Great Lakes and Environment (EGLE) to assess the environmental justice and public health impacts of these plans.
The bill also increases funding for consumer representation in MPSC cases, encourages grant making to nonprofits representing environmental justice communities and communities facing the highest energy burdens. It includes language requiring prevailing wages and project labor agreements for the construction and maintenance of clean energy projects.
The Senate also took votes on Senate Bill 519, also sponsored by Singh, which would create a community and worker economic transition office within the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO). The office is intended to aid workers and communities whose jobs are impacted in the transition from fossil fuel energy to renewable sources.
Each of the bills passed along party lines. Democrats voted down a flurry of amendments from Republican lawmakers for Senate Bills 271, 273 and 502, including delays in the implementation of the legislation and provisions that would suspend proposed clean energy standards if energy rates in the state increased past a certain percentage upon implementation.
Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) offered two amendments to Senate Bill 502 to, expanding the Michigan Public Service Commission to six members, with one amendment requiring one member to be from the Upper Peninsula and the other requiring one member to be a ratepayer. Neither was adopted.
Republicans blast policy, process
While offering amendments and explanations for no votes, Republicans called Democrats’ clean energy plans “irresponsible” and argued the bills had been rushed without consideration for stakeholders or the feasibility of the policies.
During the explanation of his no vote for Senate Bill 273, Minority Floor Leader Dan Lauwers (R-Brockway) criticized Democratic lawmakers for submitting another substitute of the bills for consideration ahead of the votes on the bills.
“Just over 24 hours ago, we were provided a final version of these bills. But for the last several hours, we’ve sat here waiting because there’s still yet another final version to emerge,” Lauwers said.
The Senate Energy and Environment Committee voted on Wednesday evening to move the bills to the Senate floor, adopting updated language for each of the bills. The committee did not take testimony or questions on the substituted bills prior to voting.
House Minority Leader Matt Hall, left, and Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt, right, speak to reporters following Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s fifth State of the State address on Jan. 25, 2023. (Andrew Roth/)
Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt (R-Porter Twp.) offered similar criticism while introducing an amendment to rename Senate Bill 271 the “Michigan Unreliable and Unaffordable Energy Act.”
While offering a no-vote explanation, McBroom criticized Democrats for a lack of bipartisan work on the bills, saying previous energy policy rewrites took years of discussion and were bipartisan.
“But all of a sudden we are racing ahead with this policy, so afraid to have debate in committee, so afraid to have debate even here that we’re jockeying for position and more,” McBroom said.
Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) responded to Republican criticisms while urging a yes vote on the legislation.
“Despite the folks across the aisle asserting that they have only had mere minutes to consider this policy, hundreds of hours of work, deliberation, debate, and good-faith negotiations have brought us to this point,” Brinks said.
While Republicans argued the proposed shift to more clean energy sources would increase energy costs and decrease reliability, Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) said these issues were the result of Republican leadership.
“We have some of the most dirty, most unreliable and most expensive power in the country. That’s because today we’re sitting here after 40 years of continuous conservative leadership in this chamber. Forty years of catering to the fossil fuel industry. Forty years of catering to utilities that raised residential rates in the last 10 years, based on bills some of the people in this room voted for,” Irwin said.
“We have a chance to invest in homegrown clean energy that is cheaper and we’ve got folks who want to hold us back,” Irwin said.
However, House Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Richland Twp.) told reporters after the session that Democrats in the House will need to work across the aisle in order to pass a clean energy standard in the lower chamber.
“We won’t support anything that bans natural gas and whether they just outright ban it, or they try to disguise it by making it so expensive,” Hall said.
While Senate Bill 271 would allow for the use of natural gas alongside 90% effective carbon capture technology, Hall said this was another way of banning natural gas by making it too expensive.
House Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Richland Twp.) at the Mackinac Policy Conference on June 1, 2023. (Andrew Roth/)
“We’re going to support natural gas, and we’re going to support affordability and reliability in the House and we’re not going to support this bill. And my guess is the Democrats are going to need to come and actually do bipartisan energy policy,” Hall said. “If it’s going to move in the house, it’s going to have to be bipartisan.”
But the Michigan AFL-CIO cheered the passage of Senate Bill 519, saying the legislation should stand as an example of how to combat the climate crisis while supporting union jobs.
“Working people must be front and center in the fight for a greener, cleaner future,” Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber said in a statement.
“As Michigan races to attract new jobs in [electric vehicle] manufacturing and renewable energy, it is absolutely imperative that policymakers prioritize protecting union jobs, ensuring strong labor standards, and investing in retooling Michigan’s workforce to thrive in the growing clean energy industry. Today, our Democratic Senate majority did just that,” Bieber said.
Enviro groups divided on legislation
While environmental and clean energy groups like Evergreen Action, the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, the Michigan Environmental Council and the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association applauded the passage of the bills, not all environmental groups were supportive of the legislation.
The Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition and Michigan Environmental Justice Caucus released a statement before Thursday’s session calling on lawmakers and environmental advocates to withdraw their support for Senate Bill 271.
“On the eve of the floor vote, Michigan’s environmental justice movement DEMANDS that you withdraw support for S.B. 271 on the grounds of the egregious harm the bill poses to overburdened communities across the state and severe violations of procedural justice in the crafting of the bill,” Andrea Pierce, network manager for the coalition, said in the statement.
We have some of the most dirty, most unreliable and most expensive power in the country. That’s because today we’re sitting here after 40 years of continuous conservative leadership in this chamber. Forty years of catering to the fossil fuel industry. Forty years of catering to utilities that raised residential rates in the last 10 years, based on bills some of the people in this room voted for.
– State Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor)
The letter criticized the bill for including a carveout for solid-waste incinerators generating power before Jan. 1, 2023, alongside including landfill gas, biomass and gas from a methane digester in its definition of renewable energy resources and the inclusion of natural gas paired with carbon capture technology as a clean energy system.
When first introduced, the bill called on energy providers to meet a 100% renewable energy portfolio by 2035, which would include approved nuclear energy, but did not include biomass, landfill gas and fuel produced from waste.
“These harmful elements are included in S.B. 271 because its drafting process was an egregious miscarriage of procedural justice. Environmental justice organizations and communities were ignored from the start, while corporate polluters chipped away at the bill,” Pierce said.
“We say now: this is NOT a climate win. This is NOT justice for our communities. This IS an acceleration of the harm we face on a daily basis, and a clear example of the legislative process working for corporate polluters AND against the people of Michigan,” Pierce said.
In an analysis of the bill released by the coalition, it also stated its opposition to Senate Bill 273, calling for a stricter energy waste reduction standard, a higher percentage of funding for programs for low income communities, and an adjustment to the language on who qualifies for these programs.
The coalition stood neutral on Senate Bill 502.
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authored by Kyle Davidson
First published at https%3A%2F%2Fmichiganadvance.com%2F2023%2F10%2F27%2Fmichigan-senate-advances-clean-energy-legislation-amid-fierce-opposition-from-republicans%2F