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Power shift? Michigan lawmakers will resume debate on controversial energy bills

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

State lawmakers are expected to take up a major overhaul of Michigan’s energy policy as they return from their November break.  

The House and Senate are debating bills to change the state’s 10 percent renewable energy requirement on electric utilities. The bills’ sponsors insist they are just trying to make Michigan’s energy generation market competitive and fair by removing preferential treatment for particular sources of energy.    

The legislation would also affect energy efficiency programs. 

The Michigan Public Service Commissionestimates the energy efficiency measures enacted as part of a 2008 law will save electric customersover $1 billionover the lifetime of the program

The changes are opposed by environmentalists, like the Sierra Club’s Mike Berkowitz.

“If we’re going to have this regulated monopoly,” says Berkowitz, “we sure as heck ought to be holding the utilities accountable on the environmental side of things as well, not just the financial side.”

Opponents of the legislation say the proposed changes would “gut” support for renewable energy in Michigan, especially solar.   

Supporters say changing the state’s renewable standard will encourage more investment in Michigan.

“We want those jobs to be in Michigan,” says former state senator turned consultant Randy Richardville.“Or do you want them to be someplace else in the Midwest or in Canada?”

Consumers Energy and DTE support the direction of the energy legislation in the House and Senate. 

“It’s vitally important that alternative electric suppliers demonstrate they have a sufficient energy supply for their customers, or the consequences of their energy shortfall will be felt by everyone,” says Dan Bishop with Jackson-based Consumers Energy. 

The state’s two largest electric utilities are hardly standing on the sidelines in the debate.   

Consumers and DTE spent more than $300,000 combined on lobbying during the first six months of 2015, a roughly 20% increase over the same period in 2014. 

Backers in the House want to send the bills to the governor before the end of the year. But the Senate does not appear ready to sign off on the legislation.  

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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