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Nesbitt hastily pulling together 55 votes for energy

December 7, 2016

Courtesy of MIRS News Service

House Majority Floor Leader Aric NESBITT (R-Lawton) is trying to pull together the 55 votes needed to pass the state’s first major energy reform legislation since 2008, amid questions within his Republican caucus and suggested changes from Democrats.

With six sessions days left in the 98th session of the Legislature, internal sources estimate Nesbitt has roughly 20-some “yes” votes in his 61-member caucus, firm “no” votes somewhere in the teens and plenty of “undecideds.” 

Nesbitt, the chair of the House Energy Policy Committee, wants energy choice companies to pay part of DTE Energy and Consumers Energy’s new power plant construction costs. The two incumbent utility giants are shutting down their old coal-fired plants because of old age and new energy regulations in favor of plants that burn cleaner natural gas. 

Outside of leaving behind a legacy piece of legislation, the term-limited Nesbitt doesn’t want to dump the issue into the lap of the 99th Legislature, which would consist of 43 brand-new House members. The utilities don’t want a delay because staunch pro-electrical choice Rep. Gary GLENN (R-Midland) is allegedly in line to replace Nesbitt as Energy Policy chair in January. 

To move SB 0437 and SB 0438, Nesbitt is having to juggle the education of his GOP members on the multi-pronged bill while negotiating with incoming House Minority Leader Sam SINGH (D-East Lansing) and navigating various interest groups’ desires for amendments. 

First, sources tell MIRS that Glenn’s sales pitch on the need to have a vibrant electric choice market that will keep Michigan electricity prices low for businesses and school districts is catching hold in a Republican caucus more conservative than the Senate, which passed both bills, 26-11, last month. 

Selling SB 0437 and SB 0438 without sounding like you’re telling a tall tale about Michigan going dark some day means using hard-to-digest electrical industry gobbly-gook like “reserve margins,” “stranded costs” and “net metering.” And those are just the basics. 

Senate Energy & Technology Committee Chair Mike NOFS (R-Battle Creek) had a few months to get a majority of his 27-member caucus behind the bills. Nesbitt has a few weeks to get a majority of his 61-member caucus, after he couldn’t close the deal on a similar plan last year. 

Both bills were discharged from Nesbitt’s committee this week and are sitting on the House floor awaiting action. 

The Michigan Chamber of Commerce is on board with the bills, the Michigan Manufacturers Association has nine changes it wants to make, chief among them that electric choice customers not be socked a fee if DTE or Consumers opts to build a new plant. 

Gov. Rick SNYDER is trying to do his part, telling members in a letter this week that Michigan can’t count on power from Illinois and elsewhere for its future energy needs. But in the face of this letter, the Illinois legislature passed a bill Thursday that would save two Illinois nuclear power plants owned by Constellation Energy, power that Constellation, a Michigan choice provider, could conceivably bring into the state. 

A coalition of schools with bi-partisan influence known as the Michigan Schools Energy Cooperative wants an amendment that runs the opposite direction of Nofs’ plan on several points, but will, they claim, save schools $125 million in energy costs. 

Then there are the Democrats. If Nesbitt gets the bare majority of his caucus, 31, to back him, he’ll need at least 24 Democrats to pass the bills. 

But Singh has a small list of changes he’d like to see. Top on the list is making sure people and businesses that generate energy through solar panel shingles or windmills are given a fair price by DTE or Consumers for the extra energy they give back to the electric grid. 

The Senate created a new “grid charge” that alternative energy groups see as a deterrent to homeowners and businesses from investing in solar shingles. 

“It really kills the solar market,” said Larry WARD of the Michigan Conservative Energy Forum. 

Consumers and DTE argue that if people are going to provide energy to the system, they should help pay for the power lines that carry the electricity. 

Singh also has a few odds and ends he’d like addressed, but the question on the table is how far the Democrats are willing to push. The plan on the table is pretty good for them. It moves the state mandate on renewable energy from 10 percent of the market to 15. It also checks two other boxes off the House D’s energy plan of 2014. 

They may not get a better deal. And if there are too many changes, will the Senate agree to them all? What about Consumers? DTE? The Chamber? 

The Michigan state AFL-CIO Friday joined five other statewide labor organizations — the electrical workers, operating engineers, laborers, trades council and utility workers — in supporting the bill, a sign that the bill should have Democratic support. 

As floor leader, Nesbitt has a hand in controlling the calendar so he can call the bills up for a vote at any time. It’s doubtful, though, that he’ll do it until he has 55 votes. 

As to when and if those votes will come together is still an open question. 

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