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Ann Arbor set to launch study on renewable energy, consider municipal utility

Ann Arbor at sunset.
Jodi Westrick
Michigan Radio

Ann Arbor’s City Council is poised to vote next week on funding a study that could determine the city’s energy future.

Ann Arbor has a goal of reaching 100% renewable power by 2030. The feasibility study will look at possible scenarios for achieving that, including potentially converting to a city-owned utility. The council is expected to vote on contractors to perform the study evaluating several options.

Ann Arbor currently gets power from DTE Energy. Proponents of breaking away from the company say it would be almost impossible for the city reach its goal otherwise, because of DTE’sheavy reliance on fossil fuelsto generate power.

Greg Woodring, the president of Ann Arbor for Public Power, said, “Municipalization would give the city that pathway. It would allow us to both generate as much power as we possibly could within the city, and also buy renewable power from outside of the city.”

Woodring said climate concerns are the group’s main motivation, but that publicly-owned utilities also have other advantages, such as lower rates and somewhat better reliability on average. More than 40 Michigan cities, including Lansing, have city-run and owned power utilities.

Woodring said his group has “pretty strong faith that the city will be able to come up with the capital necessary to acquire [DTE’s] assets and to run a utility. We believe that it is very likely that we will be able to pay all of the debt service on these bonds off with our electrical rates, which means that taxes wouldn't go up at all.” However, these are all variables that the feasibility study is intended to address.

Woodring does predict a “legal and subsequent political battle” from DTE if Ann Arbor does choose the municipal utility path.

DTE Energy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Editor's Note: DTE Energy is one of Michigan Radio's corporate sponsors.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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