Wildfires and Extreme Weather Prompt Michigan Lawmakers to Debut New Clean Energy Plan

This image provided by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources shows emergency personnel, aircraft and heavy equipment being used to suppress the wildfire near Grayling. (The Michigan Department of Natural Resources via AP)

By Michigan Advance

June 22, 2023

BY LILY GUINEY, MICHIGAN ADVANCE

MICHIGAN—Democrats in the Michigan House are responding to wildfires and extreme weather events in recent months by putting forth a set of bills that would seek to move Michigan’s energy sector to carbon-free alternatives and prioritize energy efficiency programming for low-income communities.

State Speaker Pro Tempore Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) said that the effects of climate change are already being felt in the Great Lakes region, and will only continue to exacerbate if further legislative action isn’t taken on clean energy advancements. 

“The environment reminded us of how urgent the situation actually is,” Pohutsky said. “Ice storms earlier this year left hundreds of thousands of Michiganders without power, some for a week or more. Wildfires in Canada and right here in Michigan blanketed much of the northern half of the country with smoke, drastically affecting air quality.”

House Bills 4759, 4760 and 4761, sponsored by Pohutsky and Reps. Abraham Aiyash (D-Hamtramck) and Betsy Coffia (D-Traverse City) were introduced to act as an addition to the MI Healthy Climate Plan, which was derived from an executive directive by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy in 2020. 

Pohutsky said that while the plan was comprehensive in making Michigan a leader in decarbonizing its electric grid, there were updates needed due to drastic changes in weather in the time since the plan was initially configured. 

HB 4759 would establish a 60% standard for renewable energy in Michigan’s portfolio by 2030, and a 100% carbon-free target by 2035. Coffia, who sponsors the bill, said that her northern Michigan district would depend on policies like these to maintain its way of life. 

“People may rightly associate northern Michigan, my home area, with fresh air and a beautiful clean environment,” Coffia said. “We feel so strongly in the north that we need to act now to keep it that way. So much of our way of life up north depends on a healthy and clean environment, not least of which is our critical tourism economy.”

Coffia’s bill would also require that utilities within these clean energy sectors include distributed generation programs, or energy sources generated near use as opposed to off-site plants that would be accessible to low-income areas or communities of color. Similar legislation promoting community solar projects has been introduced in the Michigan Senate. 

“Community and rooftop solar projects are not just for the wealthy,” Coffia said. “Everyone should have access to local small to medium scale renewable energy projects.”

The proposal goes hand-in-hand with HB 4761, which Aiyash said would lower energy costs for low-income communities by reducing energy waste. The cheapest energy, Aiyash said, is “the energy we don’t consume.” 

“These changes will increase efficiency, affordability and accessibility for Michigan’s utility customers, while also ensuring that we are creating good paying jobs across the state as we move to a cleaner and more just Michigan,” Aiyash said.

The third bill in the package, HB 4760, would allow the Michigan Public Service Commission to consider climate factors like wildfires or extreme weather when regulating the state’s utilities, and require the commission to hold listening sessions with affected communities when making decisions based on environmental changes. 

“My bill provides tools necessary to achieve several of the goals from the MI Healthy Climate plan, mitigating the impacts of extreme weather, addressing environmental injustice and making green energy available and affordable,” Pohutsky said.

Rep. Rachel Hood (D-Grand Rapids), who has previously introduced bills promoting community solar projects, said that the package, which is under consideration by the House Committee on Energy, Communications and Technology, would take advantage of a unique intersection of the prioritization of clean energy with a surplus of money to make it happen. 

“This is truly a pivotal moment in our state’s future as it relates to energy management,” Hood said. “Thanks to an influx of funding from the federal government that can now go towards clean energy and green infrastructure, we have a unique opportunity to build out solar at very little cost to the state.”

The state House Energy, Communications, and Technology Committee held an initial hearing on the legislation this week, and a broad coalition of groups have since urged lawmakers to take quick action.

“We are at a critical moment to take substantial action to fight climate change, and Michigan’s Legislature needs to pass legislation that will have a sizable impact on our state’s future,” Martin Kushler, senior fellow with the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, said in a statement. “These bills address energy reliability and affordability and deliver policies that Michigan’s voters demand by supporting energy efficiency and clean, renewable energy in the Great Lakes state.”

Added NIck Occhipinti, director at the Michigan League of Conservation Voters: “We have a moment like never before here in Michigan to invest in our people, protect our air and water, create clean energy jobs and join the fight to tackle climate change. Clean air, reliable energy, creating good-paying jobs and the clean-economic future right here in Michigan—those are kitchen table issues.”

This coverage was republished from Michigan Advance pursuant to a Creative Commons license.

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