New blue majority in Mich. eyes 100% clean energy law

By Jeffrey Tomich | 04/13/2023 06:56 AM EDT

The plan emerges after Democrats won a trifecta in November’s elections, allowing control of both legislative chambers and the governor’s mansion.

The DTE coal-fired power plant is shown in Monroe, Mich.

A DTE Energy coal-fired power plant is shown in Monroe, Mich. AP Photo

Michigan Senate Democrats on Wednesday introduced a sprawling legislative package aiming to achieve many of the energy and climate goals outlined in Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s climate plan.

The measure would make Michigan the third Midwestern state with a requirement of 100 percent carbon-free energy. It comes after Democrats won a trifecta in November’s elections, allowing control of both legislative chambers and the governor’s mansion. The legislation is sponsored by Sen. Sam Singh, state Senate majority floor leader, and first-term lawmaker Sen. Sue Shink — both members of the state Senate Energy Committee.

Text of the package wasn’t immediately available, but according to a news release, it would phase out coal by 2030, increase energy efficiency targets for utilities and set a clean fuels standard to reduce carbon intensity of transportation fuels by 25 percent by 2035, among other provisions. It’s unclear whether the requirement of 100 percent clean energy in the final language would cover just electricity.


“It is past due that we take action to address climate change and invest in the resources needed to make Michigan a leader in environmental resiliency and sustainability,” Singh said in a statement. “Creating energy efficiency standards and working to reduce carbon emissions and utility costs for residents will make a significant economic impact.”

The legislation was introduced during a two-day climate conference in Detroit organized by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy.

It comes a year after Whitmer released a climate plan aimed at tackling climate change while creating tens of thousands of clean energy jobs and spurring economic growth (Energywire, April 22, 2022).

Whitmer, who addressed the climate conference Tuesday afternoon, reiterated her pledge during her speech at the conference and on Twitter, vowing to achieve the “ambitious but attainable goals” outlined in the plan. She also referred to herself as a “climate optimist.”

“We all know that climate action is a kitchen table issue,” the governor said. “It is about good paying jobs, safe reliable affordable energy, clean air and water. It’s tangible, and it makes a difference in our lives.”

Michigan Senate Republicans didn’t immediately respond to the Democrats’ legislative proposal. The chamber’s Republican leader, state Sen. Aric Nesbitt, couldn’t be reached for comment.

Jerry Norcia, CEO of Detroit-based DTE Energy, said the company looks forward to working with lawmakers to implement key pieces of Whitmer’s climate plan.

As the largest investor in renewable energy in Michigan, we are well positioned to facilitate the economy-wide decarbonization that the governor’s plan envisions,” Norcia said in a statement. He added: “Keeping reliability and affordability in focus will be key, and we are encouraged by the Senate’s focus on our most vulnerable customers.”

Both utilities are in the process of transitioning to more renewable energy and retiring coal plants. But while Consumers Energy, based in Jackson, Mich., plans to phase coal from its fuel mix by 2025, DTE’s most recent long-range plan pending before the Public Service Commission calls for operating the last units at the company’s Monroe coal plant until 2035 (Energywire, Nov. 4, 2022).

‘We are in a strong position’

Climate and clean energy advocates, who have clamored for legislation to implement Whitmer’s climate agenda, applauded the new legislation.

Charlotte Jameson, chief policy officer for the Michigan Environmental Council, said it aligns with the group’s policy agenda “by eliminating greenhouse gas emissions in the electrical grid, homes, and businesses — some of our biggest polluters.”

The legislative proposal also lines up with public sentiment, according to advocacy group Evergreen Action, which cited polling data released Friday showing that a large majority of Michigan voters from both political parties support the governor’s climate plan.

Earlier this year, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D) signed a sweeping energy and climate bill that would require 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2040 (Energywire, Jan. 27). In 2021, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) signed into law the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, which would phase out fossil fuels for electricity generation by 2045.

Whitmer, in Tuesday’s speech, noted three major new laws signed by President Joe Biden in the last 15 months, including the Inflation Reduction Act, that will provide billions of dollars to help Michigan achieve its climate and energy goals.

The governor in her budget proposal last month also included more than $1 billion to reduce cost of electric vehicles, build hundreds more EV chargers and add more electric school buses.

“We are in a strong position to lead the future of clean energy and climate action,” Whitmer said.