Energy talks go all night in House, but no vote yet

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau
The Michigan House

Lansing — The Michigan House wrapped up a marathon 19-hour session early Thursday without voting on a major plan to overhaul the state’s energy policy, pausing talks on a tentative agreement brokered by Gov. Rick Snyder.

Snyder joined House Republicans in a closed-door caucus meeting at roughly 4 a.m., emerging more than an hour later with a smile but an acknowledgement that they were “still working” on the deal.

After working through the night, the House went at ease around 5:30 a.m. The lower chamber is expected to reconvene at 1 p.m. for further consideration of the energy package on the final scheduled day of the so-called lame-duck session.

“A lot of the members are looking at newer draft language, and so the House taking a break now is going to give them time to look it over,” spokesman Gideon D’Assandro said. “They’ll do that and then we’ll see where we’re at.”

The new proposal includes at least two major revisions to the 234-page plan approved last month in the Senate, including provisions designed to ease concerns that new regulations on alternative energy suppliers would effectively kill the state’s “electric choice” program that has allowed some big manufacturers and schools save money on their electric bills.

Those regulations had divided House Republicans, but there is “a lot to like” in the revised plan, according to state Rep. Gary Glenn, a Midland Republican and major electric choice proponent who said the deal is not yet done.

While details are still emerging, Sen. Mike Nofs said the tentative framework includes a new backup plan to regulate alternative energy suppliers if the federal government rejects a proposal developed by the Snyder administration and the Midcontinent Independent System Operator.

It would also eliminate a charge for customers that “come and go” out of the choice program, he told reporters, but it also could allow the 10 percent electric choice cap to shrink for a period of years if a large number of customers leave the program because of free-market rate hikes or other factors.

“They’re getting a lot, and the utilities are getting a lot,” said Nofs, R-Battle Creek. “To be honest with you, it was the governor that came up with the good idea. It was his idea, it really was.”

The revised plan is also expected to remove a proposed “equitable grid charge” for energy customers who participate in net metering programs, generating their own supply through solar panels or other renewable sources to add back into the grid.  Instead, the Michigan Public Service Commission would have authority to conduct a study and impose a tariff.

Years in the making, the heavily-lobbied legislation would create a new “integrated resource planning” process to guide long-term energy decisions. Supporters, including DTE Energy and Consumers Energy, have called the legislation a critical step toward ensuring energy capacity and reliability across the state as they continue to phase out coal-fired power plants and invest in new generation.

The proposal would require Michigan utilities to purchase or produce at least 15 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2022, building on the 10 percent by 2015 standard they already met. However, Nofs said the final version may eliminate a renewables “floor” as utilities work toward the new mandate.

The Senate-approved plan would also establish a goal of meeting 35 percent of the state’s energy needs through waste reduction efficiency programs and renewable sources by 2025.

Electric choice advocates fiercely fought the earlier Senate version, but Sen. Mike Shirkey said late Wednesday the tentative deal would effectively remove “poison pills” he thinks could have killed the program.

Shirkey, who voted against the Senate plan, said he is “cautiously optimistic” about the new framework.

“We’ve eliminated all notions of trailing fees, we’ve eliminate all notions of decoupling, which is a great rate-payer protection concept, and we’ve mitigated all of the traps where excess charges could be added to choice customers artificially causing their rates to be uncompetitive,” Shirkey told The Detroit News.