Elected officials, clean energy experts and community members convened last week for a town hall event at Grand Valley State University’s Loosemore Auditorium to discuss Michigan’s transition to clean energy.
The town hall featured a panel including Michigan Sen. Winnie Brinks, State House Rep. Rachel Hood, Michigan Public Service Commissioner Dan Scripps and Consumers Energy Electrical Supply Resource Lead Jessica Woycehoski.
In an opening statement, Brinks outlined the struggle of advancing renewable energy at the policy level.
“We in the state of Michigan have such incredible natural resource, from our forests to our dunes to, of course, our water,” Brinks said. “The trouble is there are a lot of folks in our state who don’t share that concern or don’t share the urgency of that concern, yet.”
Scripps said there are currently over 120,000 people in Michigan working in clean energy, more than in Illinois, Ohio or Minnesota, according to the Midwest Clean Jobs Report.
“When it comes to putting people to work in clean energy, I would say Michigan is doing it better than any other state in the Midwest,” Scripps said.
Hood pointed to several state and local initiatives to advance the transition to clean energy, most notably the implementation of Integrated Resource Plans, which are required under Section 6t of Public Act 341 of 2016. The section requires Michigan electric companies whose rates are regulated by the MPSC to submit an IRP to the MPSC for review and approval.
Jackson-based Consumers Energy was the first utility to submit its IRP to the MPSC in 2018.
“Integrated resource planning really took, I believe, the conversation from a very politically stratified conversation that’s characterized by politics in the U.S., to a conversation about data and informatics and good energy pricing,” Hood said.
Hood said by proposing economically smart decisions, the IRP process is going to drive “ambitious” climate goals.
“Climate change is, of course, an important part of this context, and we need to do so much work to be prepared to be resilient in the face of climate change,” Hood said.
Woycehoski admitted without the IRP, Consumers wouldn’t be talking about renewables 10 years ago at the level it is today.
“We really challenged ourselves, and one thing we think about is how do you get 100 percent (renewable) energy in Michigan?” Woycehoski said.
Consumers Energy outlined a vision for the company that showed over 40 percent of its energy coming from renewable sources, over 20 percent coming from demand-side resources like energy efficiency and zero coal generation by 2040.
Brinks proposed some other ideas on the legislative level that could make transitioning more attractive economically. She said there’s no reason for Michigan to have to choose between the environment and the economy, and argued it’s an old dynamic that’s often brought up to justify doing nothing.
“What about jobs? What about the economy? I think as we learn more about what we can do to make improvements, people are rejecting that as a false choice,” she said. “It’s not one or the other.”
As an example, Brinks said Michigan could pass a package of bills making it easier for B Corporations to make their own decisions regarding sustainability.
“If they can do that, you automatically build in some of those benefits from making more sustainable energy choices in the products and services we (consumers) purchase, whether we realize it or not,” Brinks said.
Brinks, however, warned the decision to move toward renewable energy becomes more difficult if policies are put in place that raise energy costs, more negatively impacting people at a lower income without compensating for it in some other way.
“Something like that would be the earned income tax credit, which helps people who are working yet not able to pay all of their bills,” Brinks said. “That can help level the playing field for when we make decisions that may disproportionately impact people who are living closer to the edge economically.”
Scripps pointed to Indiana as an example of how Michigan can innovate in clean energy. The Northern Indiana Public Service Company is currently over 70 percent coal utility, he said, but expects to be coal-free with most of the capacity coming from solar in 10 years.
“They knew they would incur a number of expensive upgrades if they kept those (coal) plants online,” Scripps said. “So they did a request for proposals … what they found was solar plus storage beat the other options.”