Capital Catch-Up: March 13, 2023
House and Senate Energy Committees to Hear from DTE, Consumers Officials, and Public
Numerous and extended power outages have become common for DTE and Consumers Energy customers. Our state’s two largest investor owned utilities have a failing track record on reliability even as they make massive profits and continue to charge the highest residential energy rates in the Midwest. The pattern of subpar service and high energy rates has been allowed to continue, in part, because of DTE and Consumers’ political domination of Michigan’s legislative process.
While DTE and Consumers Energy have long been huge political donors, a Planet Detroit report this year revealed DTE funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars in “dark money” political donations to lawmakers and special interests in Lansing to skirt accountability and maintain the status quo.
What may be different this year is that the most recent round of outages have sparked the ire of the new Democrat majority legislature after 763,014 homes and businesses were in the dark two weeks ago, some for up to a week. This Wednesday, the House Energy Committee is expected to hold a hearing where DTE and Consumers officials will testify. It will be the first of a series of hearings in the Legislature and at the Public Service Commission focused on utility accountability since the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) ordered a “first-of-its-kind, systemwide audit” of DTE and Consumers operations last October.
Michigan LCV-endorsed House Energy Chair Helena Scott and Michigan LCV Executive Director Lisa Wozniak at last month’s Michigan LCV Black History Month Celebration!
In a statement announcing the hearing, House Energy Chair Helena Scott said:
As state representative, chair of the Energy Committee and vice chair of the Detroit caucus, I promised I would make sure there was a committee hearing to address who and what institutions are accountable and how we can avoid these large-scale power outages in the future,” Scott said. “I’ve kept true to that promise and acted quickly — on March 15, we will be hearing testimony from utility and state officials to figure out what needs to be done. We cannot and will not simply accept that this is our new normal. The power grid and associated infrastructure must be reinforced, updated and improved so that residents are safe, warm and receive the services they pay for.”
While Michigan LCV is eager to see how this week’s hearing plays out, multiple hearings are needed to move the issue forward, and we applaud House Energy Chair Helena Scott and Senate Energy Chair Sean McCann for their commitments to do so.
MPSC to Hold DTE Utility Power Outage Hearings
In addition to upcoming utility power outages hearings in the Legislature, the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) is holding public hearings in Jackson and Dearborn on Monday, March 20.
These hearings provide DTE customers with a chance to tell the MPSC – which regulates Michigan’s utilities – about the impact of the recent outages and ongoing reliability issues.
- Click here to RSVP to Make your voice heard on power outages in Jackson, Michigan – Monday, March 20 from 12 – 2:30 p.m.
- Click here to RSVP to Make Your Voice Heard On Power Outages In Dearborn, Michigan – Monday, March 20 from 5:30 – 8 p.m.
There will also be a virtual hearing on Tuesday, March 21 from 6 – 8 p.m. for those who cannot attend on Monday. More information will be available at this page on the MPSC’s website.
Community Solar, Energy Storage Bills Introduced
Last week, Senator Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) and Senator Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) introduced Community Solar legislation, Senate Bills 152 and 153. The pair of bills “modernize state law” and increase access to affordable solar energy options for Michigan communities. Allowing communities to invest in solar projects would help lower energy costs in improve reliability in the face of power outages.
In a joint press release from the Michigan Community Solar Alliance, Michigan LCV’s Communications Director Nick Dodge praised the introduction of the bills:
We pay the highest costs for electricity in the Midwest with some of the worst reliability in the country – and we saw that first hand with the recent widespread outages. Michiganders are demanding more options to lower their costs and generate their own clean, renewable energy,” said Nick Dodge, communications director for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. “Affordable, reliable solar energy that communities can buy in to will help Michiganders lower their costs while cleaning up our air and water for future generations. We urge our lawmakers to support this important legislation.”
In the House, Representative Jenn Hill (D-Marquette) introduced a bill that would help increase utilities’ capacity for energy storage. By increasing energy storage, future power outages can be mitigated by energy on-hand, subsequently increasing reliability and service across the grid.
In tandem, the community solar and energy storage bills are good first steps from the Legislature to address utility reliability issues impacting Michigan communities, and they represent two bills of a larger climate and clean energy package.
ELCRA Amendment Passed by House
Last week, the Michigan House voted to amend the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to protect the rights of LGBTQ Michiganders under Michigan’s anti-discrimination laws. After passing the Senate in a 23-15 vote, SB 0004 was passed 65-45 by the House and is headed to Gov. Whitmer’s desk for her signature.
House Votes to Reinstate Prevailing Wage Law
House Democrats passed House Bill 4007, reinstating Michigan’s prevailing wage law. The bill would ensure construction workers receive “union-level wages and benefits” when working on publicly-funded construction projects. As infrastructure funding leads to more large-scale construction, HB 4007 would help create more good-paying job opportunities for Michiganders.
House Votes to Repeal ‘Right to Work’
House Democrats also passed House Bill 4005, which would repeal Michigan’s ‘Right to Work’ law that allows non-union workers to reap union benefits by opting out of paying dues. The legislation will help support good-paying union jobs while putting money back in Michiganders’ pockets.
Important Bill Introductions
Would amend the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act by banning the use and sale of perchloroethylene, a chemical used for dry cleaning that can cause liver damage and cancer. The bill was heard by the House Natural Resources Committee last week and is supported by Michigan LCV. Read the full bill here.
Update From Washington
The recent news that Norfolk Southern shipped contaminated soil from the train derailment disaster in East Palestine, OH, to communities in other states – Michigan and Texas – was cause for outrage, and rightfully so. Without informing leaders in either state, Ohio and Norfolk Southern shipped hazardous waste to a toxic waste injection site near Romulus and Belleville, MI.”
Read the full article here.