Dear Michigan LCV Family,
Welcome to the February 25, 2021 edition of Three Things Thursday. Given the severe weather events ravaging the country recently, I’ve doubled down this week to focus on the climate crisis, with aging infrastructure and the need for more renewables top of mind. This week’s Three Things includes a look at the catastrophic power outages in Texas and the resulting health and safety issues, including the threats to drinking water; the benefits of lifting Michigan’s 1% cap on distributed generation of solar energy for residential and commercial solar producers; and the recent developments in the Line 5 saga. I’ve also added a postscript because Governor Whitmer made an important appearance in a congressional hearing this week with a focus on climate change.
Before diving into this week’s topics, I want to quickly draw your attention to the launch of a new series the Michigan LCV team has been working on, which highlights members of the Michigan LCV family and their incredible work both inside and outside the organization. Michigan LCV is extremely lucky to have a diverse and talented array of people associated with the organization. We are proud to share their stories with you. The first person spotlighted is our board president, the fabulous George Davis. You can read George’s spotlight here.
Now, on to the Three Things:
1. Oh, Texas! A devastating example of climate crisis impacts & the critical need to invest in clean energy infrastructure
Last week, the eyes of the nation were on Texas as a bitter winter storm system wreaked havoc, shutting down much of the state with two separate heavy snowfalls and dangerously low temperatures. The unprecedented cold and snow caused massive state utility failures, resulting in power outages and food and water shortages, impacting communities across the state in deadly ways.
The extensive power outages were a result of the freezing temperatures causing natural gas and power pipelines to freeze, burst and become inoperable. Texas is the only state that relies upon and runs its own power grid, with the Eastern and Western United States using two separate multi-state grid systems. (Note: Michigan is part of the Midcontinent Independent System Operator or MISO.) The Texas power infrastructure is not winterized and there is little-to-no existing means to mitigate the impacts of record low temperatures and excessive snowfall.
While renewable energy (mainly wind energy) accounts for 23% of Texas’ energy production, it was the natural gas pipelines that became inoperable, causing massive power outages and boil water notices across countless Texas communities. Severe winter weather of this kind is not typical in Texas, but as evidenced across the globe, our changing climate is bringing unprecedented storm systems of all kinds with serious consequences.
Here in Michigan, we’ve certainly seen our share of climate related impacts, from bursting dams in Midland and massive shoreline erosion to flooded farm fields and sewage-strewn basements following massive rain storms. Most of the focus here has been on the deep need to address our water infrastructure, notably aging water pipes (think lead and legionella) and sewer systems (think massive overflows in our inland lakes and streams). But, what the situation in Texas has brought to the fore is how essential it is to address both our water and energy infrastructure needs, and how the two are intimately connected. As I write, Texas communities continue to deal with contaminated drinking water as a result of their comprehensive energy infrastructure failures.
The good news is that Gov. Whitmer’s dual climate and water executive actions announced in the Fall of 2020 will continue to serve as key frameworks by which we can achieve carbon neutrality, invest in infrastructure and protect our drinking water. The MI Clean Water Plan, as a reminder, is headlined by a $500 million investment in Michigan’s drinking water infrastructure, replacing aging service lines and protecting our most vulnerable communities and public health.
Michigan’s partnership with, and dependence upon, MISO also provides an opportunity for multi-state investments in public safety and health, protecting our communities from the impacts of climate change and ensuring safe drinking water as we work towards carbon neutrality. Leadership on the part of Governor Whitmer and her counterparts in other states, however, will be essential to ensure MISO takes necessary steps to expand transmission, and upgrade and enhance our grid – particularly as we prepare Michigan for the transition to more clean solar and wind energy.
These are complex systems that necessitate significant oversight and deep investment. The situation in Texas is a glaring example of what happens when neither takes place. Our job in all this? Well, right now it’s to support Gov. Whitmer in her commitment to finding equitable, meaningful solutions to address climate change, and the Biden administration in their pledge to holistically tackle the challenges before us. What happened in Texas should never, ever happen again. We know the problems; we need to fix them.
2. Did you know that Michigan is one of the few states that artificially blocks the expansion of rooftop solar?
As we see states like Texas suffering from pitfalls related to fossil fuels, like natural gas, and the failure of sound investment in infrastructure, there is a conversation taking place in Michigan around solar energy that people should pay attention to. It’s a conversation that is integral to the development of renewable energy and finding equitable energy solutions.
Here’s what’s happening: Michigan currently has a cap on the amount of energy that can be generated from rooftop solar – less than 1%! This artificial cap creates uncertainty for Michiganders who want to put solar on their homes and businesses, the solar industry and their employees. House Bill 4236, introduced by Rep. Gregory Markkanen, eliminates the 1% cap, allowing more consumers to install solar panels, increasing Michigan’s use of renewable energy, and creating clean energy jobs.
The 1% cap on distributed generation of solar is incredibly restrictive to producers, and limits the effectiveness of plans to address carbon emissions and move towards a clean energy future. As the cost of solar panels has continued to decrease, consumers — homeowners, businesses and communities — have become more and more interested in producing their own energy.
Last week at a House hearing on the legislation, Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) Chairman Dan Scripps testified conceptually in support of HB 4236, emphasizing that there was no economic or engineering reason for the cap to exist. Michigan LCV supports lifting the arbitrary cap on solar energy understanding that it is a barrier for so many Michiganders looking to invest in solar for their homes and businesses. Unfortunately, members of the Michigan Legislature on both sides of the aisle are stalling and failing to take action.
What’s important to note is that if the distributed generation cap is not lifted, Gov. Whitmer’s MI Healthy Climate Plan and statewide goals of carbon neutrality over the coming decades, will be more difficult to achieve. Not only will consumers be limited in their personal investments in solar power, but a distributed generation cap basically leaves the transition to renewable energy to very large projects and relies upon utility companies, like DTE and Consumers Energy, which is not a good deal for anyone but the companies, themselves.
How can you help? I invite you to take a moment and write to your state representative urging them to take action on this common sense legislation. We have an active action alert set up with a pre-written message to get you started. As always, we encourage you to customize your message and share this action alert with others.
3. Line 5 Update
After seeing the mayhem caused by failures in Texas’ energy infrastructure, I am brought back to the intense danger posed by the aging, damaged fossil fuel infrastructure known as the Line 5 oil pipeline sitting at the bottom of the Mackinac Straits.
As a reminder, after Gov. Whitmer announced her decision to revoke the Line 5 easement agreement between Michigan and Enbridge Energy late last year, there has been a flurry of activity in regards to the pipeline’s future.
Facing an impending shutdown by May of 2021, Enbridge has been vocal about not adhering to Gov. Whitmer’s decision and challenging the legality of it in court. In so doing, the Canadian energy giant continues to display a total lack of respect and care for the Great Lakes and the people of Michigan.
Democrats in the Michigan Legislature passed a resolution endorsing Gov. Whitmer’s actions, recognizing the threat that the pipeline poses to their communities and the livelihoods of their constituents. This action provides additional weight to the Governor’s decision, which is helpful given attempts by Enbridge to bypass the Governor’s authority, something that the company has been erroneously propagating since last fall. Simply put, the revocation of the easement is in accordance with gubernatorial powers. Should Enbridge refuse to shut down the pipeline in May, they will be breaking the law.
The battle over this aging fossil fuel infrastructure will continue in the courts and is one of the most important battles of its kind in the nation. As local, state and federal governments work to address the climate crisis, upgrading aging infrastructure, moving away from fossil fuels and towards much-needed carbon neutrality, the damaged Line 5 pipeline run by a company responsible for the largest inland oil disaster in our nation’s history is not only a threat to the drinking water of over 15 million people, but glaring example of what got us into this climate crisis mess in the first place.
I’ll leave you with this: the voices of voters matter a ton. The voices of the people of Michigan continue to be critical as we tackle the challenges before us. And, your support of our work as we galvanize voters around pivotal issues likes these makes an enormous difference. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Until next week, be well and be safe. Continue to mask up.
P.S. Gov. Whitmer was invited to address the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
Yesterday, Gov. Whitmer testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works during a hearing on transportation investment and addressing climate change as the country starts to build back from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Governor spoke about finding equitable and just solutions as we combat the climate crisis, investing in electric vehicle manufacturing and clean energy jobs. As we have seen over the past several months, Gov. Whitmer is committed to leading on these issues and, in combination with the objectives outlined in her recently proposed budget, has illustrated that this work is of utmost importance.
Gov. Whitmer’s strong leadership and continued action are key examples of why elections matter and offer more hope as we continue our work at Michigan LCV to address the climate and water crises. You can watch some highlights from Gov. Whitmer’s remarks here.