Bill to repeal Michigan renewable standard faces long odds

This story has been updated to include comments from Consumers Energy.

Despite strong public support for renewable energy expansion in Michigan, three state lawmakers have introduced legislation that would repeal Michigan’s 10 percent renewable energy standard.

State Rep. Tom McMillin, a Republican from suburbs north of Detroit who is term-limited out of office this year, introduced House Bill 5872 on Oct. 1. It would repeal the section in Michigan’s 2008 renewable energy law that stipulates how much capacity should come from renewable sources by 2015.

The bill is co-sponsored by fellow House Republicans Ken Goike and Ray Franz. The three were part of a group of legislators that attempted to repeal the RPS in 2012, though that attempt never made it out of committee.

Michigan utilities are on pace to meet the 10 percent standard by the end of next year. Over the summer, a Senate working group involving lawmakers and stakeholders has studied how the state should move forward once the mandate is reached.

McMillin could not immediately be reached for comment.

Clean-energy advocates say McMillin’s bill does not make economic sense due to the role that the 2008 renewable energy law has played to support investment, job growth and bringing renewable prices on par with fossil fuels.

“I think this is bad news for Michigan,” said James Clift, policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council. “If you look at the economic development boost we’ve gotten from renewables and the new interest we’re seeing, it really is a step backwards.

“We should be expanding (the RPS).”

Clift added that the steady growth of renewable generation — about 1.5 percent annually over the past five years — has not created reliability concerns for grid operators. And while roughly $2 billion was invested since 2009, largely in on-shore wind, Clift said Michigan is also “on the front edge” of an expanded solar industry.

Strong public support to increase

Statewide polling over the past year has shown steady support, at around 70 percent, for increasing the state’s renewable energy target.

“It’s another example of the conservative lawmakers being grossly out of touch with not only the Michigan public, but with their own base as well,” said Nic Clark, state director for the Michigan chapter of Clean Water Action.

Clark’s organization supports expanding the RPS at 2 percent annually through 2035, requiring renewables to make up half of the state’s energy generation by then.

Clift said it “makes sense” that the state at least continues on its path of 1.5 percent a year. He agrees that the idea of repealing the RPS is not only outside mainstream public opinion, but among Republicans as well.

“I don’t think there’s support within their caucus to move this legislation,” he said. “It’s the minority point of view. A majority of members in the Legislature see the benefits of renewable energy.”

Gov. Rick Snyder’s Energy Task Force found last year that the state could meet “RPS targets of as much as 30 percent (or perhaps even higher) from resources located within the state,” according to a report from the Michigan Public Service Commission and the Michigan Energy Office.

But if the debate ensues, Michigan would join a wave of states over the past few years where renewable standards have been challenged in state legislatures.

While those efforts have been largely unsuccessful, Michigan’s immediate neighbor to the south, Ohio, has seen its renewable energy and efficiency law frozen by state legislators. That set off a wave of opposition among clean-energy and business groups and slowed the state’s solar industry.

Senate plans coming

Meanwhile, Republican state Sen. Mike Nofs, who chairs the Senate Energy and Technology Committee, has been working on an energy task force with various stakeholders throughout the summer.

As of Tuesday afternoon, he said he and others in the work group were “surprised” to see McMillin’s legislation surface. Nofs said he had not spoken with any of the House bill sponsors about repealing the RPS and had not yet read the bill.

“I understand there are a lot of concerns with it automatically,” Nofs said in an interview.

Nofs wants to see the state’s renewable energy law amended to define “clean energy” sources, rather than renewable, which he has in the past said would include natural gas. He said that could include a “clean energy goal,” rather than a standard, depending on how the work group progresses.

A Consumers Energy spokesman said the investor-owned utility has participated in Nofs’ work group, and that it opposes McMillin’s proposal.

“Consumers Energy is preparing to open its second wind farm, Cross Winds Energy Park, this fall and expects to reach the 10 percent renewable portfolio standard. We also are participating in the workgroup led by state Sen. Mike Nofs that is looking at future opportunities for renewable energy and energy efficiency in the state. We are supportive of the collaborative effort that Senator Mike Nofs has pulled together,” spokesman Brian Wheeler said in an email.

“The legislation introduced in the House by Rep. Tom McMillan (sic) would create great uncertainty about the future of renewable energy in the state, and we would not be supportive of such legislation.”

In the next few weeks, Nofs said the group will likely release draft language for energy-efficiency amendments to the 2008 law. He’s hoping to have hearings on the amendments by the end of November. The “best case scenario” is passing bills during the Legislature’s lame-duck session after the November election, but it may get put off until 2015.

“We’ve been working hard and taking our time instead of rushing it,” Nofs said.

The Michigan Environmental Council and Clean Water Action are members of REAMP, which publishes Midwest Energy News.

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