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Posts from the ‘legislation’ Category

Michigan’s energy overhaul: What’s in it and how we got here

After more than two years of negotiations, countless hours of committee hearings, numerous variations on several bills, untold column inches of news coverage and a dizzying series of false starts, dead ends and shifts of the political winds, the epic effort to overhaul Michigan’s energy policy finally drew to a close Thursday evening.

Folks, we have a deal.

Here are highlights of the final package, which Gov. Snyder has said he will sign into law.

  • Requires utilities to ramp up their use of renewable energy from their current level of 10 percent to 12.5 percent by 2019, and 15 percent by 2021.  Once a utility achieves or exceeds 15 percent renewable energy, they cannot reduce that level of commitment unless they demonstrate it is in the best interest of ratepayers.
  • Creates a new program for customers who want more—or all—of their electricity to come from renewable sources. The Public Service Commission is tasked with establishing a new rate under this program.
  • Sets a goal of meeting 35 percent of Michigan’s energy needs through renewable power and energy efficiency by 2025.
  • Maintains the requirement that utilities reduce energy waste by at least 1 percent each year, lifts a cap on how much they can invest in waste reduction programs and increases financial incentives available to utilities for going above and beyond the energy efficiency standard.
  • Maintains, for now, the “net metering” program that allows customers to reduce their energy bills by generating power at home. The bills also abandon, for now, an earlier proposal for an arbitrary “grid access fee” on net metering customers, and instead tasks the Michigan Public Service Commission with designing a new rate structure for net metering customers in the future.  The new rate design will be crafted through a public process over the next year, and then be implemented in the spring of 2019 at the earliest.  A new rate design could combine net metering with time-of-use pricing—in which electricity is more expensive at times of higher demand—to better reflect the value of energy when it is generated and used.
  • Requires utilities to undertake “Integrated Resource Planning” to guide their investments so they meet long-term energy demand at the least cost. These plans would go through extensive review and compare both generation and demand management options to meet future demand.

As MEC President Chris Kolb said in a statement to the media, “These bills are a vast improvement over earlier proposals and will keep Michigan’s energy policy moving in the right direction…This deal will save millions of dollars a year for Michigan residents by continuing to eliminate energy waste and increasing investments in wind and solar power, which are the cheapest ways to produce electricity.”

And while we would have loved a deal that accelerated Michigan’s transition to clean energy, a review of the negotiations that led us here makes it clear that things could have been much, much worse. This is an important victory.

What follows is a summary of the major milestones on the road to the energy deal. As you’ll see, MEC has been at the table from the very beginning—thanks to our generous supporters—and our policy pros have worked relentlessly to win the best possible deal for Michigan’s energy future.

How we got here

May, 2014 – Sen. Mike Nofs announces Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Workgroup.

MEC Policy Director James Clift is named to this panel charged with reviewing Michigan’s 2008 clean energy laws and recommending updates. Those laws required Michigan utilities to get 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by the end of 2015 and achieve annual energy savings through efficiency measures. The workgroup meets throughout the summer of 2014.

July, 2014 – “Energy Freedom” bill package drops. Read more

Senate energy plan: Summer school needed to fix failing grades

The Michigan Senate is likely to vote this week on a pair of bills to reform our state’s energy policy. Throughout the debates leading up to this point, MEC has maintained that any credible strategy for Michigan’s energy future must accomplish five goals: control costs for utility customers; minimize the risks of future price spikes; protect natural resources and public health; promote economic development; and improve reliability.

Since it’s graduation season, we decided to use those goals as the basis for a report card on Senate Bills 437 and 438. (You can read this recent post for a more detailed analysis.)

Unfortunately, although they were recently revised, these bills still get failing grades. Without major changes, the Senate energy plan isn’t ready to graduate.

Report card for SB 437 and 438

Control costs. Michigan utility customers pay some of the highest rates in the Midwest. The current legislation would increase those costs by $4 billion over the next 10 years. The bills abandon the use of competition and the free market to control energy costs. They also repeal the renewable energy and energy efficiency programs that have been highly effective in reducing energy waste and controlling costs. This legislation would allow the utilities to hold on to the $120 million in renewable energy surcharges they don’t need, since renewables are now the cheapest energy sources.

Grade: F

Minimize risks.  Renewable energy is the cheapest electricity available from new facilities and offers fixed prices over a 20-year period because it is not dependent on fuel costs. However, these bills would scrap our wildly successful renewable energy standard. Utilities are guaranteed a profit of more than 10 percent on every dollar they spend to meet customer needs, but Michigan families and businesses will take on all the risks when those dollars are spent on utilities’ first choice—large, expensive new natural gas-fired power plants. Unfortunately, it seems many current legislators don’t remember when the per-unit price of natural gas skyrocketed from $2 to $15 between 2002 and 2005. By failing to lock in low and predictable long-term prices, these bills will put Michiganders at risk of sharp price spikes.

The bills would continue energy efficiency programs through 2021, which would reduce our overall need for energy and therefore reduce risks for ratepayers. Between 2009 and 2014, energy efficiency programs helped Michigan customers avoid the use of more than 6 million megawatt hours of electricity. The programs save Michiganders $4 for every dollar invested, a total savings of more than $100 million every year.

Grade: D

Protect natural resources and public health. Coal-fired power plants are the #1 source of air pollution in the country and are major contributors to climate change. Michigan’s renewable energy standard has helped to reduce our dependence on dirty coal, which provided two-thirds of our power when the standard was adopted and now provides only half. These bills will stall that progress by immediately repealing our renewable energy standard and phasing out our waste reduction programs over the next five years. Meanwhile, Michigan residents pay hundreds of millions of dollars a year to deal with the health impacts of dirty coal plants. Our asthma rate is 25 percent above the national average, and more than 100 Michiganders die prematurely from ailments tied to coal plant pollution.

The bills set a new goal for waste reduction and renewable energy, but the language is non-binding.

Grade: D-

Promote economic development. Michigan’s clean energy law triggered $2.9 billion in economic development in Michigan from 2008 to 2015. For the first time, our economy began to diversify beyond the automotive sector. We became a top state for clean energy patents. Energy efficiency service companies have sprouted up across the state. That growth is largely attributable to provisions in the 2008 law that half of renewable energy projects be built by private developers, rather than the utilities themselves, to promote competition and innovation. All of those benefits will go away under the current legislation. The bills would not only free the utilities from competing with other companies, but would also allow them to make money off energy they played no part in generating.

Grade: F

Improve reliability. The bills add new sections that attempt to ensure all energy providers have sufficient resources to serve their customers. It also recognizes that our regional grid operator is taking steps to improve overall reliability.

Unfortunately, the Senate package takes a step backward by hampering efforts to use time-of-day rates to take advantage of the advanced meters we have already paid for to reduce peak demand.

Grade: C-

With grades like these, it’s no surprise the Senate energy proposal faces stiff opposition from a broad range of players across the political spectrum. The Legislature breaks after this week for summer recess, but without major changes to these bills, it looks like summer school is in order.

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Top photo courtesy Theodore Scott via Flickr.

Other images adapted from photo by Jack Amick via Flickr.

‘No stricter than federal’ bill aims to make Michigan mediocre again

Our state has invested more than $260 million over the past decade in promoting tourism under the banner of “Pure Michigan.” A bill moving through the state House of Representatives would undermine that campaign by broadcasting the message that Michigan plans to do nothing more than the bare minimum when it comes to protecting the Great Lakes, our natural resources and the health of our residents.

The House Regulatory Reform Committee on Wednesday approved legislation that bars Michigan from passing any rule stricter than a federal standard unless the state can accomplish the daunting legal feat of proving such a rule is necessary.

House Bill 5613 is just the latest version of this “no stricter than federal” proposal, which now awaits action on the House floor. Gov. Snyder already vetoed a similar bill in 2011, and the same House committee failed to pass a different version of the bill last April.

This new iteration has the slight improvement of allowing the state to adopt stricter-than-federal rules if the governor can prove by “clear and convincing evidence” that such rules are necessary. (Unfortunately, that change also gives this misguided proposal the best chance of moving forward it’s had since the original 2011 bill.) But even with this exemption it is clear that approving the bill would be a big step backward for Michigan, for three major reasons: It takes away Michigan’s ability to be proactive in protecting our environment and quality of life; it would likely lead to sky-high legal costs for state taxpayers; and it cedes Michiganders’ right as a state to govern ourselves as we see fit, rather than following the whims and snail’s pace of the federal government.

Waiting for another crisis

In an attempt to downplay concerns about the impacts of this bill, its proponents have given examples of when the state could use the exemption to adopt a stricter-than-federal rule, including the Flint water crisis. But while we agree this extreme example certainly meets the bill’s clear and convincing evidence standard, we have serious doubts that the executive branch would be granted an exemption in similar circumstances without the benefit of hindsight. Read more

Guest post: Coldwater River fiasco highlights need for drain code reform

Editor’s note: This piece was contributed by Dr. Bryan Burroughs, executive director of Michigan Trout Unlimited and a member of MEC’s board of directors. It originally appeared in the Summer 2015 issue of Michigan Trout Magazine. It has been edited here for length.

In much of southern Michigan trout streams are a rare breed. There are a lot of reasons for this rarity, some natural, but many are the result of us turning this part of the state into a “working landscape.” It’s filled with urban areas and farmland that completely altered the natural hydrology of our southern Michigan streams, rendering them impaired or broken in terms of cold, clean water. So the rare handful of streams that have persisted cold enough and high quality enough to still support trout are coveted and revered around here, where most of the residents of the state live. These southern Michigan trout streams are analogous to a trillium flower growing up through a crack in a busy downtown sidewalk. The Coldwater River, located about 40 minutes west of Lansing, was one of these rare trilliums of a trout stream. That is until the local drain commission and its agents dug a 12-mile trench in the ground around that rare little blossom.

The river

The Coldwater River, also referred to as the Little Thornapple River, originates at Jordan Lake in the town of Lake Odessa, flows southward almost to Hastings, turns northwest and then flows downstream till it joins the Thornapple River, which then joins the Grand River. Despite originating from a lake and flowing through farm lands, this river kept temperatures cold enough to support brown trout.

Trout Unlimited (TU) members from Lansing to Grand Rapids frequented the river as their local trout angling waters, and over the last decade or so had invested significant time, energy and money into enhancement efforts in this watershed, including the removal of the Freeport Dam last year. Well-known Michigan trout guru Jim Bedford, who has fished more of the state’s trout rivers than just about anyone, identified the Coldwater River as having produced more trophy brown trout for him than any other river in the state. Normally I’d never divulge such privileged information, but unfortunately it won’t offer that kind of quality fishing any time soon. Read more

Guest post: Conservation champion Willard Wolfe enters Environmental Hall of Fame

Editor’s note: This post was contributed by noted writer, environmental historian, policy advisor and former MEC staff member Dave Dempsey.

When dentist and fly fisherman Willard Wolfe saw the destruction of the trout streams he loved and the unbridled alteration of stream and lake habitat across Michigan, he didn’t get mad—he got  to work.

Thanks to his vision and leadership, a strong draft bill was handed to activists who got it passed. Michigan had an historic lakes and streams protection law less than two years later. The 1972 Inland Lakes and Streams Act has saved countless Michigan water resources from damming, channelizing and filling.

For initiating, choosing, and chairing the statewide ad hoc committee that authored that law, and for a life of conservation activism, Wolfe was inducted into the Michigan Environmental Hall of Fame in May. A project of the Muskegon Environmental Research and Education Society (MERES), the Hall of Fame welcomed several other past and present advocates into its ranks in the same ceremony, held in the Gerald R. Ford Museum in Grand Rapids.

For those who knew Will, who died in 2011, the recognition was fitting.  A gentleman with a quiet but firm persistence, he sought no reward for his conservation work—yet that work had lasting, statewide significance.

“His long-standing commitment to the joys of trout fishing on Michigan’s beautiful natural rivers made him a logical leader in the effort to provide effective controls,” MERES said in announcing Will’s induction. “This resulted in the Inland Lakes and Streams Act to protect the natural characteristics of our lakes and streams. Michigan led the nation in those years to provide adequate protections for these natural values.”

As is true of many conservationists, Will’s activism had roots in childhood. Growing up on Grosse Ile in the Detroit River, he was surrounded by nature.  “As an Eagle Scout, he learned the names of the wildlife and many plants,” said his wife Joan. “As an enthusiastic small-boat builder and sailor, as well as just living on the river, he also learned to love wildlife. While his best friends hunted ducks and geese, he was content to just learn about them.” Read more

Gov. Snyder stands up for biodiversity. Help us say thanks!

Gov. Rick Snyder today took a stand for conservation and good science by vetoing Senate Bill 78, which would have blocked state agencies from designating land to protect biodiversity.

It takes guts to wield the veto pen, and the governor deserves heartfelt thanks for his leadership from everyone who enjoys our state’s great outdoors.

Please take a moment to call the governor’s office to express your support for his decision.

Call the governor’s office: (517) 373-3400.

Send him a good old-fashioned letter:

Gov. Rick Snyder
P.O. Box 30013
Lansing, MI 48909

MEC President Chris Kolb signaled the veto’s importance for future Michiganders’ conservation heritage in a press release applauding Gov. Snyder’s decision.

“Biodiversity means healthy, functioning ecosystems and productive, resilient forests,” Kolb said. “I’m glad the governor has made sure Michigan’s professional resource managers are able to protect biodiversity and all its benefits for future generations.

“Gov. Snyder’s decision today shows a respect for and understanding of science, and honors Michigan’s heritage as a conservation leader,” he added.

In a letter to the Senate explaining his decision, the governor said the bill “causes confusion and inconsistencies and could make it more difficult to sustainably manage Michigan’s Public forests and world class natural resources to meet the changing needs of current and future generations.”

By vetoing the bill, the governor sided with 133 scientists from Michigan universities who sent him a letter highlighting biodiversity’s importance for healthy ecosystems.

Thank you, Gov. Snyder!

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Photo courtesy Kyle Rokos via Flickr.

Lame duck update: The Ugly, the Good and the Bad

With Michigan’s lame duck session in full swing, we thought we’d update Michigan Distilled readers on what has been a very…interesting—yes, we’ll go with interesting—week at the Capitol.

The title of a particular Spaghetti Western film provides a useful way to sort out recent goings-on in Lansing. But one bill moving through the Legislature is so vile, odious and abhorrent that, with apologies to Sergio Leone, we have to start there.

And so, here’s a roundup of this week’s environmental legislation: The Ugly, the Good and the Bad.

Ugly

There’s bad legislation, and then there’s House Bill 5205, which that chamber approved Thursday. Introduced by Rep. Aric Nesbitt, a Republican from Lawton, this irresponsible bill would amend Michigan’s clean energy law, changing the definition of “renewable” to include old tires, railroad ties and other hazardous waste.

Calling dirty, nonrenewable materials clean and renewable would be laughable, but the bill has advanced too far to be funny, and its potential effects on the health of Michigan residents are no joke. Railroad ties, for example, contain dioxins and other chemicals known or suspected of causing cancer. Read more

MEC, ZWD urge lawmakers to send waste-to-energy bill to the trash heap

Update 2: The Senate did not take up HB 5205 before the end of the legislative session, so the bill is dead (for now). Thanks to everyone who spoke out against this bad legislation and in support of real renewable energy!

Update: The House has approved HB 5205. Please join MEC in urging your senator to stop this irresponsible bill from moving any further.

The Michigan Environmental Council and Zero Waste Detroit are urging lawmakers to vote down legislation approved by a House committee that would expand the state’s definition of renewable energy to include the burning of hazardous waste, warning that it would harm the health of Michigan residents and hobble the state’s growing clean-energy industry.

House Bill 5205, introduced by Rep. Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton) and approved this week by the House Energy and Technology Committee he chairs, would amend the 2008 Michigan law that requires utilities to generate 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2015. It would put scrap tires, plastics and hazardous materials in the same category as legitimate clean-energy technologies like wind and solar power.

The bill draws its list of fuels that should be considered renewable from a federal administrative rule that has nothing to do with renewable energy. In fact, the rule concerns how the Clean Air Act should be applied to facilities that burn waste materials, including hazardous waste with potentially toxic air emissions.

An amendment to the bill removed petroleum coke—an oil-refining byproduct—from the list of fuels that would be considered renewable. And some of the included materials, such as byproducts from pulp and paper mills, already were considered renewable fuels under the 2008 law. But the bill would add dirty fuels that create serious public health risks when burned. For example, it could include railroad ties, which contain dioxins and other chemicals known or suspected of causing cancer, and demolition waste including wood coated in lead-based paint. Read more

For a more competitive Michigan, lawmakers must expand civil rights law

Everything we do at the Michigan Environmental Council is guided by our vision of a brighter future for our state. We work every day toward a healthy state powered by clean, renewable fuels; known for an irresistible mix of bustling urban areas and unspoiled wild places; connected by convenient buses, trains and trails; and defined by clean, abundant fresh water.

While a cleaner, healthier environment is a key feature of the future Michigan we envision, that future also will provide greater economic opportunities for residents across the state by creating the kinds of communities young professionals flock to.

So, though environmental protection is MEC’s focus, we occasionally feel compelled to speak up when something outside our usual purview threatens the thriving Michigan we’re trying to build. That’s why we’re urging lawmakers to correct Michigan’s failure to protect the basic rights of all residents.

Surprisingly, current law allows Michigan residents to be fired, passed over in hiring or denied housing based on their gender identity or sexual orientation.

That our state still permits such discrimination is, frankly, embarrassing. It’s also out of step with what Michiganders value.  Polling shows three-quarters of Michigan residents and 60 percent of small business owners support amending the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to outlaw those practices.

Legislators should heed calls from the Michigan Competitive Workforce Coalition to amend Elliott-Larsen—which prohibits workplace discrimination against anyone based on their religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status or marital status—to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Read more

Three key issues to watch as lawmakers return to Lansing

When the leaves begin to turn colors each autumn, the wardrobe around the MEC offices also undergoes an unmistakable change.

Friends, the glorious days of t-shirts, jeans and flip-flops are coming to an end. Now begins the season of the necktie. The Legislature is coming back to town.

Our summer dress may have been casual, but we’ve been working hard behind the scenes on issues we expect to make some waves in the next few months. There’s no time to waste; lawmakers will only be in session for nine days in September, three days in October and a smattering of lame-duck days after the November election.

Some of the fall’s meatiest environmental debates will be hammered out quietly through the administrative rulemaking process, not in the Legislature. And what follows certainly isn’t the only important legislation that will see action in the House and Senate chambers. But for our money, here are a few of the most interesting issues to watch in the new legislative session that begins Tuesday.

Oil and gas.

As oil and gas operations have moved beyond rural parts of the state to more populous residential areas, citizens have begun organizing to call for greater local control over drilling regulations.

A crowd of those advocates will greet lawmakers on their first day back in Lansing. The rally is in support of legislation introduced by a pair of Republican state senators from Macomb County—Jack Brandenburg and Tory Rocca—that would restrict drilling in townships with more than 70,000 residents. Read more