Clean energy advocates praised a Thursday announcement by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer highlighting the need to modernize the state’s power grid as it shifts from coal-fired power.
The MI Power Grid initiative directs the Michigan Public Service Commission to engage with a range of customers on how the switch from large, centralized power plants to smaller, more distributed generation can happen smoothly and affordably.
“Michigan’s transition to clean energy is well underway, but we need regulatory reforms to ensure all residents can realize the full benefits of that transition,” Charlotte Jameson, energy policy and legislative affairs director for the Michigan Environmental Council, said in a statement. “We hope to see real solutions and actions as a result of this initiative to address Michigan’s clean energy future.”
State officials say the multi-year effort will assemble various advocates during planning sessions and potentially lead to new regulations. Key components include educating utility customers on programs and rates available to reduce energy usage, and updating statewide regulations in response to emerging advanced energy technology.
A final report on the process is expected in 2021.
“Prioritizing clean energy in Michigan will help us grow our economy, create jobs, and protect our overall public health,” Whitmer said Thursday. “And if we’re going to call Michigan a leader in clean, reliable energy, we must update our state’s electrical grid.”
Advanced energy business groups agree that modernizing the grid will improve reliability, decrease costs for customers and drive energy innovation through competition. The national group Advanced Energy Economy called the scope of Whitmer’s plan “ambitious and achievable,” while similar initiatives are underway in Ohio, Illinois, New York and Rhode Island.
The state’s largest energy provider, Consumers Energy, said the move aligns with the company’s own goals to address climate change. Consumers is planning to cut its carbon emissions more than 90 percent by 2040, and doesn’t plan to build any new fossil fuel plants. Consumers is relying on modular solar projects and energy efficiency to help meet its future electricity needs.
“The issue of climate change needs everyone’s attention,” Consumers said in a statement. “We admire the Michigan Public Service Commission and the governor for working side by side with us and many others to tackle the issue of preserving Michigan’s natural resources for future generations.”
While Michigan lacks a stated long-term emission-reduction target, the state’s two largest utilities, Consumers Energy and DTE Energy, have proposed to significantly reduce their electric carbon emissions in the coming decades.
Residential ratepayer advocates have called on state officials to be mindful of the costs of these grid modernization programs, specifically in DTE’s service territory. Attorney General Dana Nessel and the Citizens Utility Board of Michigan, in particular, have been critical in noting rates continue to increase to pay for infrastructure projects while service doesn’t appear to be improving.
“We’re pleased to see that the MI Power Grid initiative involves not only educational components and opportunities for further discussion, but also real action that will benefit residential utility customers through rule-making and evidentiary hearings,” Citizens Utility Board of Michigan Executive Director Amy Bandyk said in a statement.