Michigan Democrats push carbon-neutral energy goal back 5 years to 2040
- Democrats originally aimed for a new law requiring carbon-neutral electricity in Michigan by 2035
- They’re pushing the deadline to 2040 after conversations with interest groups
- The bill is part of a broader energy package under consideration this fall
LANSING—Democratic lawmakers pushing bills that aim to get Michigan utilities off fossil fuels say they’re extending the proposed deadline by five years, from 2035 to 2040.
During a Senate Energy and Environment Committee hearing Thursday, lawmakers were originally scheduled to take testimony on three bills tied to the energy overhaul, including a centerpiece bill calling for utilities to achieve 100 percent carbon-free energy by 2035.
But instead they deferred testimony on two bills, SB 271 and SB 273, pending new language sponsors said is forthcoming. Among the changes to the carbon-free energy bill sponsored by Sen. Erika Geiss, D-Taylor, is a new deadline of 2040.
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“This is a giant undertaking,” Geiss acknowledged while giving an overview of the forthcoming changes.
Lawmakers must do “everything we can to protect our climate,” she said, but also ensure it’s not done in a way that would “negatively impact reliability.”
Some critics of the energy legislation have argued moving too fast away from fossil fuels would leave Michigan vulnerable to power outages by forcing utilities to swap consistent power from natural gas for intermittent wind and solar resources.
Proponents contend those concerns can be alleviated with investments in batteries to store power for when the sun isn’t shining or wind isn’t blowing. The early version of the Democratic bill would also include nuclear energy among the acceptable mix of carbon-free sources.
A separate bill to ramp up requirements for utilities to prioritize energy efficiency, sponsored by Sen. Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, is also being amended with softer requirements.
Though lawmakers pulled those two bills from the agenda, they managed to vote on a third that would codify an existing state rule allowing farmers to rent their land for solar arrays while staying enrolled in the state’s farmland preservation program.
“This bill, while probably the least complicated, has an incredible impact on our state and people that I hold dear,” said Sen. Kristen McDonald Rivet, a Bay City Democrat and the bill’s chief sponsor.
The solar-on-farmland bill cleared the committee 10-3. But Democrats are likely to face slimmer margins as they take up the carbon-free energy bill and other more contentious bills in the package.
Republicans on the committee peppered bill sponsors with questions about how they expect Michigan to achieve their decarbonization goals, citing concerns about costs and logistics. And earlier in the day, House Republicans held a press conference denouncing the bills and arguing Michigan should encourage – not require – utilities to get off fossil fuels faster.
“They're not going to get support from us on the Republican side for extreme mandates that are unrealistic and take local control away from our local communities,” said House Minority Leader Matt Hall, R-Richland Township.
Some environmental groups, meanwhile, argue the bill doesn’t go far enough.
One coalition sent a letter earlier this month to Whitmer and Democratic legislative leaders urging them to adopt a standard that allows only wind, solar, small-scale hydropower and geothermal energy.
“We have significant concerns over the use of natural gas, hydrogen, carbon capture and storage, nuclear power, biomass, waste-to-energy, landfill gas, and biofuels for the dangers they pose to disenfranchised communities,” read the letter.
Geiss said under her draft bill, utilities would be allowed to achieve at least part of the carbon-free energy requirement through carbon capture or other offset mechanisms, rather than by obtaining all of their power from carbon-free sources.
The forthcoming version will also require utilities to acquire 2,500 megawatts of storage by 2030. Energy storage, such as batteries, is seen as crucial to maintaining reliable energy on a grid powered by intermittent resources like the wind and sun.
Singh contends Michigan stands to lose out on federal investments in clean energy if it doesn’t aggressively support an energy transition. And Geiss argued that in a worsening climate crisis that is projected to cost U.S. taxpayers $2 trillion annually by century’s end, the cost of inertia outstrips the cost of climate action.
“That cost of doing nothing is more expensive, not only in terms of, like, dollars and cents,” Geiss said, “but more expensive in terms of the health of our people in our community.”
Senate Energy and Environment Committee Chair Sean McCann, D-Kalamazoo, said Democrats see the energy package as part of their “fall agenda,” meaning the legislation could receive votes before lawmakers break for the end of the year.
Beyond the carbon-free energy standard and other measures discussed Thursday, Democrats have said they want to require utilities to better prioritize energy efficiency, expand charging stations and incentives for EVs, and give the state control over siting of energy projects, such as wind and solid arrays, which have run into opposition in several local, more rural and politically conservative communities.
If all those changes happened, it would constitute the largest rewrite of Michigan energy law since sweeping reforms passed in 2016. Those reforms took years to come to fruition.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, whose 2022 climate plan called for phasing out coal-fired power plants by 2030 and achieving economy-wide carbon neutrality by 2050, has broadly endorsed the plan but avoided talk of timelines.
“All the energy we produce will be from wind, solar, or other commonsense sources,” Whitmer said in her “what’s next” speech last month.
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