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Letter: Let energy proposals go dark

September 16, 2016
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Editor:

Please contact your state legislators and inform them you “strongly suggest” they vote “no” on a package of energy bills (SB 437, SB 438) reported out of the Senate Energy & Technology Committee and currently before the full Michigan Senate.

They further the monopoly the big electric utilities have enjoyed since competition was reduced by a group of laws enacted in 2008. Utility proponents of the legislation tout these bills as necessary to build new plants and assure a safe energy future for Michigan. They have employed numerous scare tactics and spent millions trying to convince customers and policy makers that unless we act now, “Michigan will go dark” very soon. I implore you to contact your legislators. Encourage them to listen to the people who have thoroughly analyzed these proposals.

The utilities claim there is an urgent need to build new plants. So why don’t they? Nothing is stopping them from moving forward to do that now under current energy laws and regulations.

According to the Midcontinent Independent Service Operator (MISO), which is responsible for ensuring there is sufficient capacity for our region, the reserve margin capacity is tightening, but there is no energy shortage for the near term and still additional capacity available within the region to meet our needs, if necessary.

I have two major reasons for being opposed to these proposals.

First, it legislates there will be no further mandates to generate a minimum from renewable energy sources. (It was 10 percent by 2015, and they met it.)

Second, the proposed legislation would eliminate what is left of free market competition. PA 141, passed in 2000, gave homeowners, as well as businesses, the unlimited right to “shop” for their electricity. That was rolled back to 10 percent in the 2008 energy law update. Residential rates in Michigan have increased over 50 percent since then. According to the latest data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Michigan’s electric rates are among the highest in the Midwest and above the national average. This has cost us more and made Michigan less competitive with neighboring states. If these bills pass, which direction do you think your electric bills will be headed?

These are the primary reasons both environmental and major business groups vigorously oppose this legislation. School groups (including many West Michigan districts) oppose provisions in the bills that would effectively eliminate their participation in Michigan’s “electric choice” program that has allowed them to save hundreds of thousands of dollars in utility costs and redirect that money to the classroom.

While competing states like Ohio, Illinois and Pennsylvania have deregulated their electric markets and enjoy lower costs, our state’s utilities are clinging to the old “big box” monopoly utility model, which rewards them and their shareholders at the expense of customers. By consolidating our electric generation assets to a few large plants, it also increases our risk from electric grid cyber attack.

Michigan needs an energy policy that invites market participation beyond just the incumbent utilities that harnesses the power of competition, rewards innovation and embraces new technologies. As currently drafted, SB 437 and SB 438 provide little or none of these and a lot more of the status quo, which Michigan ratepayers cannot afford and legislators should not continue to tolerate.

Bruce G. Pienton
Grand Rapids

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