Andy Balaskovitz

Andy Balaskovitz

Contributing reporter, covers energy, policy and economic development.
Twitter: @ABalaskovitz
Email: [email protected]

Michigan’s largest utilities are giving a substantial boost to an economic development program launched by former Gov. Rick Snyder, committing to spend billions of additional dollars with in-state suppliers over the next five years.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer this month reversed a policy from the Snyder administration that blocked commercial solar energy projects on property enrolled in the state’s farmland preservation program.

When tobacco companies settled claims with dozens of states in the late 1990s over the use of deceptive marketing tactics, trial lawyers took home billions of dollars in what remains a contentious example of lawyers’ fees for representing the government.

State lawmakers are pushing once again to expand civil rights protections for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community as key legal cases on the issue sit before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Some people might assume homes built by Habitat for Humanity are typical, nuts-and-bolts affordable housing adhering to basic building codes. However, that assumption would be wrong.

Michigan’s medical marijuana market has experienced a flurry of activity in the past two weeks involving court rulings, state guidelines and legislation, and culminating in a showdown within the marijuana business community. The contention hinges on competition between state-licensed and unlicensed businesses and growers.

A large penetration of electric vehicles is not in Michigan’s near-future, so advocates say EV drivers shouldn’t be hit with steep fee increases based on the state’s road funding formula. That is the prospect under a road funding law enacted in 2015, but clean energy groups hope the issue is revisited before electric vehicle drivers potentially see some of the highest registration fees in the country.

Michigan House Republicans have advanced a pair of bills blocking local units of government from adopting “sanctuary” policies for undocumented immigrants, although critics say the bills could interfere with local law enforcement.

A bipartisan group of state lawmakers introduced a bill this month calling for the expanded use of microgrids, which help utilities and private customers rely on localized power generation during outages. House Bill 4477— sponsored by state Rep. Steve Johnson, R-Wayland — aims to build grid resilience by allowing customers who generate their own power to disconnect from the grid during outages.

A recent report found that Michigan leads the Midwest in clean energy jobs, but top state energy officials say the state and industry could foster a more diverse workforce.

A new state law preventing environmental regulations from being stricter than the federal government’s could see a test under the Trump administration’s proposal to scale back national water standards. The proposal to redefine the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule would scale back regulations adopted by the Obama administration that set which waters receive protection under the Clean Water Act.

The closure date of a large coal plant along the Lake Michigan shoreline could be moved up under a proposed settlement agreement between Consumers Energy and multiple environmental and energy groups. In late March, the Jackson-based utility announced it had reached a deal with groups over its long-term energy plan, which includes closing all of its coal units and building out thousands of megawatts of solar energy by 2040.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey had a message for reporters when asked to respond to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s proposal earlier this year to form a dedicated climate change office. “I just find it fascinating that we can sit here in Michigan in the chamber of the House and think that we can control the climate,” he said.

Key aspects of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s first budget proposal involving education and road funding have drawn mixed reactions from the business community, but advocates are aligned in opposition of leveling the tax rate among Michigan companies. Whitmer has proposed reinstating a tax exemption on pensions that was eliminated by former Gov. Rick Snyder, and offsetting the decreased revenue with higher taxes on smaller businesses.

A $1.4 million line item in Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s $60.2 billion budget proposal unveiled March 5 calls for a three-year project to catalog “hazardous materials pipelines” that cross Michigan waterways. Department of Natural Resources Director Daniel Eichinger told lawmakers this month the study, spurred by the debate over Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac, is needed to fill an information gap about dangers posed to Michigan waters.

On a recent night in February, around 50 people attended a private dinner in Muskegon Heights featuring a 10-course tasting meal. The fine-dining plates included mussels and crab cakes made with fresh crab sourced from Fish Lads of Grand Rapids Inc. Michigan Cannabis Chefs LLC hosted the $35-per-person event, offering dishes infused with marijuana throughout the night.

A San Diego firm’s proposed sale of its renewable energy assets will not affect plans for a wind energy project in West Michigan, company officials say. On Feb. 12, Sempra Renewables announced plans to sell its assets to a subsidiary of Columbus, Ohio-based American Electric Power Co. Inc. for $1.1 billion. Sempra’s portfolio includes 724 megawatts (MW) of wind energy and battery storage across the U.S.

Over the past two weeks, Attorney General Dana Nessel has drawn attention to Michigan’s increasing electricity rates, pleasing consumer advocacy groups who say the issue has received little attention. Speaking to Michigan State University’s Institute of Public Utilities on Feb. 22, Nessel said in a statement she wants to “revive the legacy” of former Attorney General Frank Kelley in advocating for the public in rate cases before the Michigan Public Service Commission.

A nonprofit “green bank” that finances residential and commercial clean energy projects continues to grow, surpassing $175 million in private investment since 2009. Officials with Michigan Saves Inc., which provides low-interest loans for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, have an ambitious goal of $1 billion of investment by 2023.

Sunday, 17 February 2019 17:51

Whitmer appoints clean energy backer to MPSC

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appointed former state representative and clean energy advocate Dan Scripps to the Michigan Public Service Commission on Feb. 8, filling a key vacancy as the administration brings a heightened focus to renewable energy and climate change.

The Republican-led state Legislature has rejected an executive order from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer that would have abolished a pair of controversial environmental review boards.

MUSKEGON — A West Michigan solar energy developer is pursuing new projects and job-training in low-income communities across the state that qualify for tax relief under recent federal tax reforms. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 created qualified Opportunity Zones that allow investors to defer taxes on capital gains meant to spur development in low-income areas. While most projects involve real estate development, some developers across the U.S. are beginning to explore the potential for renewable energy in Opportunity Zones.

State lawmakers are trying for a third consecutive session to codify rules over property tax assessments that municipalities say have cost them millions of dollars in revenue.

The Michigan Public Service Commission has started what could be a two-year process to govern how renewable energy projects are connected to the electric grid. The plan to make new interconnection rules seeks to resolve an unprecedented backlog of requests from independent power producers to build solar projects at a time when utility customers increasingly are turning to solar for self-generation.

The state chapter of a small business advocacy group is among the supporters of a bipartisan bill package introduced this month to reform the way law enforcement seizes property from people suspected of crimes.

For about $21 million, Michigan can build a statewide network of electric vehicle fast-charging stations to meet anticipated demand by 2030.

Business and environmental groups were equally surprised at one of Rick Snyder’s final acts as Michigan governor: Signing a bill making it more difficult for state agencies to adopt rules stricter than federal regulations. But while environmental groups say the move jeopardizes natural resources and public health, business advocates downplay the concerns.

It’s been two years since the Legislature passed sweeping energy reform bills, yet the laws remain front and center for those working behind the scenes on energy policy.

U.S. power companies are in the middle of a major shift that includes an increased focus on smaller, modular renewable energy projects and less on centralized fossil fuel plants. Jackson-based CMS Energy Corp., the parent company of Consumers Energy, is no different. Following the closure of its “classic seven” coal plants in 2016, Consumers released its long-term energy vision in June that spans the next two decades. 

Michigan business groups say a transition of executive power from a Republican to a Democrat brings policy uncertainty, but they expect a continued focus from Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer on at least two topics: road funding and talent.