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Clean energy plan heads to the House

 solar panels outside on a sunny day
American Public Power Association

The Michigan Senate passed key parts of legislative Democrats' clean energy bill package this week.

One major highlight of the package is a bill that would require electric companies to generate power using only a “clean energy portfolio” by 2040 -- though the legislation would provide for some “good cause” extensions of that deadline.

To accomplish that, power companies would have to start ramping up their dependence on what the bill describes as "clean energy" to 15% through 2029.

That would have to jump to 50% by the end of 2034. Starting in 2035, energy portfolios would need to be at least 60% clean energy.

Bill sponsor Senator Erika Geiss (D-Taylor) said inaction is not an option.

“In fact the cost of the doing nothing is dire and detrimental to the health and welfare of our state and her people,” Geis said from the Senate floor ahead of a vote Thursday.

But the clean energy package was largely met with derision from Republican opponents during the lengthy floor debate.

Critics of the bills claim they would raise energy prices and reduce grid reliability.

Senator Lana Theis (R-Brighton) accused bill sponsors of speeding the package through the legislative process.

“Forget working seriously and trying to solve energy problems and high costs that people are already facing at a time when families and businesses are struggling in this economy,” Theis said, before later adding, “Who needs to hear from the experts? We’re busy mandating utopia.”

Earlier forms of the legislation appeared in committee several times before making it to the full Senate floor for a vote Thursday. But the versions voted on were not unveiled to the full public until Thursday.

The clean energy standard legislation went through multiple internal drafts and changes.

For example, the original proposal listed 2035 as the clean energy deadline. It also didn’t count nuclear energy as meeting the clean energy requirement until 2035.

The current version of the bill counts nuclear as a “clean energy system.” It also includes natural gas that uses “carbon capture and storage that is at least 90% effective.”

Beyond that, bill sponsors argue they’ve added safeguards to ensure prices don’t spiral out of control.

“We’re going to be watching the Public Service Commission as they go through the process of implementing energy policy as we go forward. I think having this unique opportunity to pull down federal dollars and resources will make this an affordable transition to clean energy,” Sen. Sam Singh (D-East Lansing) told reporters.

Other pieces of the package would require regulators to consider environmental justice factors in long-term planning, and create the new Community and Worker Economic Transition Office, to help energy sector workers with the transition.

The legislation now heads to the House of Representatives, where Republican minority leadership is already promising opposition.

House Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Richland Twp) said the changes made to what counts as clean energy -- namely, including natural gas if it's produced using certain greenhouse-gas emissions reduction technologies -- aren’t enough to get Republican support in his chamber.

“We won’t support anything that bans natural gas. And whether they just outright ban it or they try to disguise it by making it so expensive. We need affordable and reliable energy and natural gas is the most reliable source in our state,” Hall said.

On the House side of the Capitol, legislation to give the Michigan Public Service Commission more power to site solar and wind projects is awaiting a vote of its own. Republicans have signaled heavy opposition to those bills as well.

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