Solar Siting Amended to Require Local Gov Collaboration First
November 7, 2023
During another 12-plus-hour session day, House Democrats voted out bills allowing the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) to permit solar, wind and green storage projects as long as the energy companies go through the impacted local governments first.
The House legislation was taken up concurrently alongside the Senate’s “clean energy by 2040” package, SB 271, SB 273, SB 502, SB 519 and SB 277. All nine bills passed along party lines.
The House package was taken up first, and over 20 amendments were adopted to HB 5120, which establishes a certification process through the MPSC for energy facilities over 100 megawatts.
The amendments were adopted within hours of being introduced. Republicans were given little time to read them, resulting in a Republican caucus call in defiance of a House rule requiring members to sit in their seats.
HB 5120 bill sponsor Rep. Abraham Aiyash (D-Hamtramck) said the amendments add a requirement that project proposals must first go through the local government unit where they would be installed before being taken up by the MPSC, which he said would ensure that locals are driving the process.
Local governments who set up a process matching state standards for siting clean energy projects would then have four months to work with a developer to figure out a plan, he said, and an additional four-month extension before the project would be put before the MPSC.
House Democratic Press Secretary Jess Travers said other amendments include various technical language changes, an invalidation of siting certificates after five years if construction does not begin and requirements that siting areas must be a certain distance away from structures to address public safety concerns.
The bills were opposed in the House Energy Committee by local governments due to the potential loss of local control, which municipal associations and Republicans said could result in green energy developments overstepping their bounds and overtaking land in rural districts.
Aiyash said any notion that the bills as amended usurp local control is not accurate, and “I wish my Republican colleagues had read the bills.”
The original four-bill package was merged into two – Aiyash’s HB 5120 and Rep. Ranjeev Puri (D-Canton)’s HB 5121. Both bills passed along party lines, 56-52 with two Republicans absent.
Despite a bigger cushion for locals to review the projects, House Republican Spokesperson Jeremiah Ward said Thursday’s amended bills remained the same, and “the Whitmer administration can still come in and override local authority.”
The theatrics before Thursday’s vote was aplenty.
First, several members had plans to leave the chamber Thursday afternoon for a conference, but the Democrats didn’t have the votes in their own caucus to move quickly. Meanwhile, Republicans made it known that they had no intention of giving one vote to any renewable energy bill. House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit) made it known that members were staying until these bills, a priority of the Democratic leadership team, were passed.
Most of Thursday afternoon was spent addressing the concerns of the remaining reluctant Democratic members.
Second, Rep. Will Snyder (D-Muskegon) was observed being driven to the hospital in the late afternoon hours for a non-contagious sickness. He returned in the evening for the final votes.
During the vote on the first energy bill, Republicans attempted to caucus despite Speaker Pro Tempore Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) enforcing a rule that members needed to stay in their seat. The members flooded into the caucus room before they were ushered back in.
The bill was placed up on the board for approximately 10 minutes, and during that time only Democratic Rep. Rachel Hood (D-Grand Rapids) did not vote, along with Reps. Tom Kuhn (R-Troy) and John Roth (R-Interlochen), who were not present.
Hood voted yes after spending a majority of that time on the phone and in conversations with Rep. Amos O’Neal (D-Saginaw), and the bill passed, 56-52.
During a vote on SB 271, Rep. Tom Kunse (R-Clare) recused himself due to a potential conflict of interest, which he said stemmed from Consumers Energy being a customer of his.
Minority Floor Leader Bryan Posthumus (R-Rockford) then requested Rep. Joey Andrews (D-St. Joseph) also recuse himself due to a potential conflict of interest. Andrews did not and in the meantime, Pohutsky ruled against pursuing the matter further.
Posthumus challenged the ruling of the chair, and it was taken up for a vote, resulting in Democrats voting to uphold Pohutsky’s ruling, 56-52.
In comments after session, Posthumus also called out Rep. Phil Skaggs (D-Grand Rapids) for voting on the bills despite his wife being a multi-client lobbyist working for a renewable energy client.
“Today, our House ethics crisis hit a new low,” Posthumus said. “We saw the people of Michigan robbed in real time before our eyes and our Democratic leadership did nothing to stop it or even call it out.”
When Democrats confirmed they had the votes, the rest of the House bill package, along with the Senate’s “Clean Energy by 2040” package, were taken up, and also passed along partisan lines with final adjournment coming shortly before 1 a.m. Friday morning.
When asked how he was so confident Democrats had the votes, Aiyash responded, “I know how to count.”
On the floor, there were nearly 45 minutes of speeches in opposition to both the House siting package and the Senate’s energy legislation rolled into one, including speeches from Reps. Matthew Bierlein (R-Vassar), Graham Filler (R-St. Johns), Jaime Greene (R-Richmond), Phil Green (R-Millington), Bill G. Schuette (R-Midland), Pauline Wendzel (R-Coloma) and Andrew Fink (R-Osseo).
“The people of Michigan have the right to say no,” Fink said. “The overall thrust of this package is that the state is going to force everyone to rely on unreliable technology, whether we like it or not, whether we want it or not and whether the technology is effective enough.”
Under HB 5120, if a renewable energy company chooses to go down the MPSC route to site a project, they still need to go through a local public hearing process, meet with local officials, explain why they are using undeveloped land instead of a vacant brownfield and come to a workforce development agreement with locals. Also, the local government would get a cut of the money made off the energy to pay for public safety services or infrastructure.
“Clean Energy By 2040” Package Passes House
Following the passage of House siting legislation, the House took up the Senate’s “clean energy by 2040” package, or SB 271, SB 273, SB 502, SB 519 and SB 277.
The bills, along with the House’s siting package, were on the agenda Wednesday, but were ultimately not taken up then.
The Senate bills, in addition to mandating that electric companies run on 100% “clean energy” by 2040, which was extended from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s original proposal of 2035, requires MPSC-regulated electric companies to depend 50% on renewable energy, like wind, solar, geothermal and hydropower, from 2030 to 2034, and bumps up to 60% in 2035.
The 100% portfolio includes any renewable energy sources, along with new and existing gas plants using technology with a carbon capture and storage rate of 90%, nuclear power and biomass energy.
SB 277, another piece of the clean energy package, permits farmers with state-protected land to rent land to commercial solar projects.
Rep. Dylan Wegela (D-Garden City) proposed an amendment to SB 271 that would remove natural gas from the list of acceptable energy sources, which was not adopted.
House Republican Spokesperson Ward said he was surprised to not see Democrats remove natural gas altogether to get more progressive members on board, the carbon capture requirement is still a limiting factor for natural gas plants.
He said that despite some carve outs for plants in Democratic districts, the bills remain largely the same.
In addition to the previously included renewable energy and natural gas provisions under the 100% portfolio, a substitute adopted on the floor included a carve out for an “independently owned combined cycle power plant fueled by natural gas that has a power purchase agreement with an electric provider.”
Minority Floor Leader Matt Hall (R-Kalamazoo) said Republicans weren’t likely to get on board with a change to Michigan’s energy policy without first having conversations, regardless of any Democratic amendments brought forward.
“We haven’t had any conversations with the Democrats about this legislation,” Hall said. “Essentially, they just gave the pen to the utilities and the utilities wrote it. They’re locking in their profits, and the rate payers, the small businesses, the manufacturers and ultimately the people are going to be paying these rate increases.”
Hall referenced the study shared by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which used a Minnesota-based free market think tank to conclude that the package could cost ratepayers more than $100 extra per month for 27 years.
“I just want to be clear, the Republican position is we’re fine with… transitioning to clean energy, but it has to be done affordably and also in a reliable way,” he said. “As the technology gets there, we support transitioning, we support wind and solar, but we also support natural gas, which is our most reliable and efficient form of energy.”
Hall said the bills don’t address reliability or affordability, which was the reason the legislation was supposed to be crafted in the first place.
“Today is the day that we can say the Republicans are going to take the House back, because these Democrats… are voting to raise energy bills, and they’re voting to take away their townships, cities and villages’ local control over these energy projects, so that Gretchen Whitmer’s appointed public service commission can come in and drop solar panels and windmills all over their communities.”
Good Luck Angela Witwer (D-Lansing), Jim Haadsma (D-Battle Creek), Jaime Churches (D-Wyandotte), Reggie Miller (D-Belleville) and Betsy Coffia (D-Traverse City), Hall said.
“Their communities do not want windmills and solar panels shoved all over . . . to meet some crazy climate plan so Michigan can compete with Minnesota and California. That’s not what these communities want, and they’re going to hold their representatives accountable after this vote today,” he said.
The rest of the package moved out, 56-52, save SB 277, which Rep. Sarah L. Lightner (R-Springport) recused herself from.
Article courtesy MIRS News for SBAM’s Lansing Watchdog newsletter