DTE, Consumers boost renewable energy goals

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — A ballot committee seeking to boost Michigan’s renewable energy mandate is ending a statewide petition drive after reaching an agreement with utility giants DTE Energy and Consumers Energy.

The state’s two largest utilities announced Friday they are targeting a “50 percent clean energy goal” by 2030, including investments to ensure that 25 percent of the electricity they sell comes from renewable sources by that time, along with energy efficiency programs.

Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer of California was funding a Michigan petition drive for a potential ballot initiative that would have required at least 30 percent of a provider’s electricity sales come from renewables by 2030.

But the Clean Energy, Healthy Michigan committee said Friday it will not submit the more than 350,000 signatures it had collected to put the proposal before voters.

The agreement between the ballot committee, DTE and Consumers “is a win for the people of Michigan,” Steyer said in a statement.“Michigan has become a national example of how consumers, public interest advocates and energy companies can work together to find real solutions to combat climate change.”

Steyer’s NextGen Climate Action advocacy organization had pumped more than $1.8 million in direct and in-kind contributions into the Michigan ballot initiative, according to state disclosure reports.

The new DTE and Consumers goal to sell 25 percent renewables by 2030 builds on a 2016 law signed by Gov. Rick Snyder that requires an electric provider’s portfolio to include at least 15 percent renewables by 2021. The state first adopted a 10 percent standard by 2015 under former Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

DTE Energy Chairman and CEO Gerry Anderson and Consumers Energy CEO Patti Poppe released a joint statement announcing their new clean energy goal. They thanked Steyer and the ballot committee for taking “time to understand our commitment to carbon reduction and how Michigan’s energy plan puts the tools in place to achieve this goal in a thoughtful and affordable manner.”

The utilities are “overwhelmingly in favor of renewable energy and are focused on bringing additional energy efficiency opportunities to our customers,” Anderson and Poppe said.

The agreement came under fire from Jason Hayes, director of environmental policy for the free-market-oriented Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland.

“It’s disconcerting that Michigan’s monopoly utilities have become so confident in their ability to independently establish energy policy for the state that they don’t appear to have sought approval for this groundbreaking agreement from the Michigan Public Service Commission before going public with it,” Hayes said.

More than 62 percent of Michigan voters rejected a 25 percent renewable standard ballot proposal in 2012, he noted.

“I am left wondering: Who granted Steyer, (Consumers’) Poppe and (DTE’s) Anderson the authority to singlehandedly set Michigan’s energy policy in this fashion, especially when the people of Michigan are the ones who will have to foot the bill for all of this?” Hayes said in an email.

The Sierra Club’s Michigan representatives welcomed the agreement but would like to see even more wind and solar energy developments.

“Fifty percent clean energy is the floor and not the ceiling for what these two utilities can achieve by 2030, and we challenge them and Michigan’s other utilities to meet and beat these goals,” said Regina Strong, Michigan director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign.

DTE and Consumers will outline plans to meet their new renewable and energy efficiency goals by 2030 in upcoming Integrated Resources Plans they are required to file with the state under the 2016 energy law.

Both companies have already announced plans to reduce carbon emissions 80 percent — by 2040 for Consumers and by 2050 for DTE — as they continue to move away from coal.

The Michigan Public Service Commission last month gave final approval for DTE to build a $1 billion natural-gas-fired plant in St. Clair County, which will help replace power from a string of coal-fired plants the company plans to retire.

At least 29 states have renewable energy portfolio standards, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, including some that remain much more aggressive than Michigan’s.

Hawaii will require 100 percent renewable energy by 2045, and Vermont 75 percent by 2032. California and New York laws both require 50 percent renewables by 2030, while Oregon requires 50 percent by 2040.

Michigan clean energy and environmental activists also pushed a ballot initiative in 2012, proposing a constitutional amendment for a 25 percent renewable requirement by 2025. Voters rejected the 2012 measure after an expensive campaign.

The 2018 initiative would have changed state law, not the constitution. Support for the latest petition drive showed Michigan “wants clean energy,” said campaign manager John Freeman, a former state legislator and executive director of the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association.

“We look forward to working with Michigan’s energy companies and leaders across the state to continue to push for more progress on this issue and working for a healthy, prosperous future for Michigan families.”