|Joined by energy officials and advocates, Gov. Rick Snyder visited a Traverse City family and congratulated them for using Michigan Saves’ private/public partnership to sharply increase their home’s efficiency.|
Michigan’s clean energy entrepreneurs and advocates hope to hear some good news from Lansing about renewable energy next week.
That’s when the Michigan Public Service Commission and the Michigan Energy Office release the first of four draft-summaries of comments the public gave them earlier this year regarding the state’s future energy goals. The agencies collected the comments last winter and spring via their special Web pages and seven public forums around the state that attracted close to 1,600 participants, including close to 300 who spoke to the sometime standing-room-only crowds.
The project, ordered by Gov. Rick Snyder and dubbed “Readying Michigan to Make Good Energy Decisions,” was as much a sophisticated quiz for energy experts as it was an opportunity for public comment. It posed highly technical questions and gathered hundreds of studies, experts’ statements, and everyday citizens’ often-passionate comments on what the state should do next about renewable energy, energy efficiency, electric utility choice, and “additional areas.”
Draft-summaries on each are due over the next two months, and the governor will use them to shape a number of legislative and policy initiatives.
The forums revealed strong public support for developing more renewables and energy efficiency. A tally by the Michigan Energy Michigan Jobs coalition, which campaigns for expanded clean energy and efficiency mandates, found that pro-renewables comments outnumbered anti-renewables by four-to-one at the forums, and that all 63 people who commented on energy efficiency supported doing more.
Marty Kushler, a senior fellow at the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, who’s based in Lansing, endorsed the process.
“I was very pleased that the governor conducted the public forums and extremely pleased at the overwhelmingly positive public comments for utility energy efficiency programs in Michigan,” he said.
The release, which will be open for additional public comment through Oct. 11, will be a draft report summarizing comments on renewables, an issue that energy advocates say needs prompt action. Unlike the state’s ongoing efficiency mandate, Michigan’s current “10 percent by 2015” renewable mandate expires in 15 months, and the state’s top utilities say they won’t develop more unless told to do so. A final draft is due Nov. 4.
A Portrait of Success
At the forums, different speakers repeatedly pointed out that the renewable energy and efficiency mandates are succeeding, often using the state’s own figures culled from utility filings to the MPSC.
The state’s utilities are meeting their renewable goals, they said; MPSC studies confirm that wind power prices are falling dramatically, and are now cheaper than new coal-power and competitive with new gas power. Since the forums, DTE Energy has signed another very low priced wind power purchase agreement and Consumers Energy wants to eliminate its monthly clean energy surcharge, originally set at $2.50 and since reduced twice, to the current $.52.
The price of solar power, which both companies are developing in very small amounts, also continues to fall sharply.
Many forum comments also pointed out that the efficiency mandate is a good bargain; annual MPSC analyses show that every dollar utilities invest in efficiency is producing about three dollars in energy cost savings and, along with inexpensive wind power, provides a hedge against future energy costs for utilities and their customers.
“I think we saw at all the forums that clean energy really is working and has a lot of support,” said Katie Salau, communications manager for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, one of the citizen groups that urged members to participate in the project. “We heard from people saving on their energy bills, and many other positive comments. We got a lot of great takeaways that confirm the state is ready for stronger renewable and efficiency standards.”
Catching the Spirit
It is unclear what form the draft report will take—or its final version. The agencies launched the project by posting 114 questions—most quite technical—and asking respondents to either file their answers along with any supporting documents or present them at the forums.
While MPSC Chairman John Quackenbush and Energy Office Director Steve Bakkal told forum attendees that all of their answers would be included in the public record (a court reporter was at each forum to transcribe comments), it is unclear how much influence the many non-technical statements from lay people will have.
One energy expert who attended several forums and asked to remain anonymous worried that the draft and final reports would only summarize the “very dry technical analyses,” and leave out all other, non-technical comments.
“If that’s the case, that means they are going to miss entirely the whole spirit of the overwhelming positive public response,” he said. “In addition, the people who bothered to write up comments, appear, and present them would feel a bit misled. There was a clear implication that all of the information those folks poured out would be part of the process.”
Michigan last addressed clean energy in 2008, during the Granholm administration, when lawmakers enacted Public Act 295, requiring utilities to get 10 percent of their electricity from renewables by 2015 and steadily cut demand for their electricity and natural gas through customer efficiency programs.
Soon after Snyder’s inauguration, in January 2011, supporters of stronger state clean energy and energy efficiency policies began pressing him to expand both mandates, which are modest compared to those of most other Midwestern states. But they had to wait almost two years for Snyder to deliver his Special Message on Energy and the Environment, after he first delivered messages on what he viewed as more pressing issues, like taxes, education, and transportation.
Snyder delivered his energy message last November after voters turned down a renewable energy constitutional amendment, which he strongly opposed. His message disappointed some clean energy boosters, who hoped he would strongly embrace expanding renewable energy and energy efficiency requirements.
Instead, Snyder’s message spoke broadly about the issues—concentrating on reliability, affordability, the potential for natural gas development, and more efficiency. He closed his discussion by endorsing an “all of the above” energy production strategy and promising a year of statewide discussion before taking any next steps.
“This coming year, I will invite the Legislature and Michigan citizens to tell me what information we will need to fairly evaluate our energy policies,” Snyder said in his message, “and we will embark on an effort to collect and analyze those facts. Then, by 2015, we will all be able to implement new decisions about our energy framework that will enhance Michigan’s adaptability, reliability, affordability and environment.”
Weeks later, his administration unveiled “Readying Michigan for Good Energy Decisions,” which has moved steadily forward since then.
In the meantime, various comments by the governor reaffirm he strongly favors more progress on energy efficiency and believes that developing at least some additional renewable generation is a good idea. But, beyond that, he and his administration have been largely silent on the issue.
Although state officials have remained mum, despite several inquiries, on exactly how they are writing their four reports—on renewables, efficiency, customer choice, and “Additional Questions”—they are clear that Snyder will use them to shape proposals to the Legislature that he intends to unveil at the end of 2013.
The state’s Web site indicates that the draft report on “Additional Areas,” will be released on Oct. 1, with additional comments due Oct. 22, for a Nov. 15 final report; “Customer Choice” on Oct. 15, with additional comments due Nov. 1, for a Nov. 20 final report; and “Energy Efficiency” on Oct. 22, with additional comments due Nov. 6, for a Nov. 26 final report.
Jim Dulzo is the Michigan Land Use Institute’s senior energy policy specialist. Reach him at [email protected].
*An earlier version of this story mistakenlly said the report will be released on Monday, Sept. 16, 2013. The release has since been delayed.