Michigan families could see lower utility bills due to new legislation

By Kyle Kaminski

October 31, 2023

State lawmakers are charging forward with new standards for electric companies to accelerate a transition to cleaner—and much more affordable—energy for all Michigan families. 

MICHIGAN—Long-awaited legislation passed by the state House and Senate aims to create new clean energy standards for electricity providers, requiring them to source most—and eventually all—of their energy through renewable sources over the next 17 years.

In addition to helping tackle the climate change crisis and protect the environment, Democratic lawmakers said the bills will also create new energy efficiency programs that will translate to savings for Michiganders who are frustrated with the ever-rising cost of their energy bills.

“We’re prioritizing reliable, sustainable and cost-effective energy for Michigan families,” Sen. Sam Singh (D-East Lansing) said in a statement last week. “We’re establishing fair laws that ensure minimal carbon impact while also accessing federal funding to aid in our transition.”

The four bills that comprise the “Clean Energy Future” plan—Senate Bills 271, 273, 502, and 519—are now headed to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s desk, where they’ll await her signature to be signed into law. 

Singh and his co-sponsors, Sens. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor) and Sue Shink (D-Northfield Township), said the legislation’s passage marks a major step toward creating a healthier, more sustainable environment for the state. They also touted the bill’s focus on helping Michigan’s working-class and low-income families.

“These bills are driven by the shared sentiment that energy should be affordable and reliable for all Michiganders,” said Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks. “Those values were our starting point and the result is powerful legislation that will make our electric bills more reasonable, our grid more dependable and our state a cleaner and more sustainable place to live.” 

Clean Energy Standards

Senate Bill 271 would require electric providers that are regulated by the Michigan Public Service Commission—like Consumers Energy and DTE—to source at least 50% of their energy from renewable sources by 2030, and then mandate 100% renewable energy by 2040. 

Allowable renewable energy sources considered under the bill reportedly include wind, solar, nuclear, and natural gas that uses 90% effective carbon capture technology, biomass, landfill gas made from solid waste, gas from methane digesters using municipal sewage waste, food waste and animal manure, and energy-generating incinerators in operation before Jan. 1, 2023.

“It is evident that communities in Michigan, throughout the country and world are suffering from the effects of climate change. In Michigan, we are beginning to take bold action to address this urgent crisis,” Geiss said in a statement. “Clean energy legislation is crucial in combating the climate crisis to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and transition to renewable energy sources.” 

Support for Workers

Lawmakers said the transition away from energy like coal will create an education and skills gap for workers in the energy industry—but the package passed this week is designed to help.

Senate Bill 519 would create a new Community and Worker Economic Transition Office within the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunities, which would be specifically designed to help workers and communities during the transition to more renewable energy.  

“This legislation is a major milestone in ongoing efforts to ensure a greener and more environmentally conscious Michigan,” Sen. Sean McCann (D-Kalamazoo) said in a statement. “These policies will safeguard public health and better protect our environment now and for future generations, and my colleagues and I will continue to work to address the climate crisis and combating the harmful pollution that plagues our farms, air and Great Lakes.” 

Savings by Efficiency 

State officials said the cheapest energy is energy that isn’t used, with every dollar spent on energy efficiency programs translating to about $4 in avoided energy costs for Michiganders.

Senate Bill 273 focuses largely on improving the state’s energy waste reduction efforts by requiring electric companies to find new ways to become more efficient with their energy—and that’s where the potential for more affordable electricity comes into play, lawmakers said.

Specifically, the bills would increase the state’s energy waste reduction standard for electrical sources from 1% to 1.5% with a goal of 2%. The legislation would also slightly increase the standard for natural gas from 0.75% to 0.875% beginning in 2026, reports Michigan Advance

It would also require energy providers to create a low-income energy waste reduction program, and then direct 25% of its energy waste reduction spending to help support the new program.

Lawmakers said the idea is to help ensure energy improvements benefit residents with the greatest need—specifically Michiganders with low incomes or those living in multi-family homes.

“There is no Planet B—and it is incumbent upon us to secure a clean energy future that ensures marginalized communities are not continually, disproportionately affected by environmental hazards—and that they have equal access to clean resources,” Geiss said in a statement.

Since the Clean and Renewable Energy and Energy Waste Reduction Act was passed into law in 2009, Michiganders have saved almost $6 billion in electric costs and $2 billion in natural gas costs. The stiffer standards are expected to lead to additional savings for Michigan families.

A recent report from 5 Lakes Energy found that in addition to saving Michigan households an average of $145 a year in energy costs, policies included in the legislation would also help the state secure $7.8 billion more in federal investment from President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, as well as create nearly 160,000 new jobs.

“This clean energy package is a big deal for Michigan families, Michigan workers, and Michigan’s economy,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement. “These bills will balance reliability and affordability and help us protect our air and our water and improve public health. They will help us bring home more cutting-edge manufacturing investments so we can make solar panels, wind turbines, and more right here in Michigan, supporting good-paying jobs, high-skill jobs that are a ticket to the middle class. And they will make Michigan a national leader in clean energy, shoring up our position as the best place to start your family, your career, or your business.”

Accountability

Senate Bill 502 would expand the role of the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) with the goal of prioritizing reliability, affordability, and equity to programs. Senate Bill 271 would also empower the Attorney General or any customer to sue utilities that fail to meet the new standards, and create new reporting requirements to ensure that progress is being made.

“By integrating equity into the regulatory process, we will enable the MPSC to evaluate the effects of power generation in communities impacted by environmental injustice,” Shink said in a statement last week. “These communities, often consisting of a higher proportion of people facing economic struggles and people of color, bear a disproportionate burden of pollution from power generation and are more susceptible to the adverse effects of climate change.” 

A coalition of environmental groups—including the Michigan Environmental Council and the Michigan League of Conservation Voters—signed a statement in support of the bills last week.

“These bills provide the Michigan Public Service Commission more tools to regulate big utilities and ensure more residents are able to participate in that oversight,” it reads. “Without these bills, Michiganders would continue to pay the highest rates for the worst service in the Midwest.”

READ MORE: New ‘Power for All’ bills to help Michiganders harness more solar energy

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  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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