Published in Economic Development

Business groups find common ground on energy policy

BY Sunday, December 18, 2016 08:00pm

LANSING — The Michigan Legislature on Thursday passed a pair of sweeping, bipartisan energy bills that just days before had divided business groups over whether the policy changes would negatively impact ratepayers.

After Gov. Rick Snyder led hours of negotiations that reportedly went until about 5:30 a.m. on Thursday morning, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce — which was part of a coalition opposing the Senate-passed version of the bills — joined the statewide Michigan Chamber of Commerce to support the bills.

The two groups had been at odds since the Senate passed SBs 437 and 438 on Nov. 10, largely over provisions that critics said would have killed Michigan’s electric choice program by charging fees and overall making it more expensive to participate.

“The Governor’s Office really helped us work through our concerns and started to develop language that aligned with our principles and top priorities to protect ratepayers and the long-term viability of electric choice,” said Joshua Lunger, director of government affairs for the Grand Rapids Chamber.

He added that the group had “a lot of back and forth and tense times” in recent weeks over trying to reach an agreement on electric choice.

Lunger called the previous choice provisions a “minefield” of various proposals that could have led to increased costs for participants.

“It wasn’t doing anything in a fair way, in our view,” he said.

Additionally, the House version of the bills removed “decoupling” language from the legislation, which would have allowed utilities to recoup costs from ratepayers if energy demand dropped below expected levels, such as during a cool summer or mild winter.

“That was a big concern for us,” Lunger said, referring to the earlier version.

The Michigan Chamber of Commerce, meanwhile, supported the Senate bills all along, as did the state’s major utilities, DTE Energy and Consumers Energy.

The bills were helped along with Democratic support in both chambers by increasing the state’s renewable portfolio standard to 15 percent by 2021 and extending the energy efficiency standard that Snyder has said will increase spending on cutting energy waste. The House passed SB 437 and 438 by votes of 79-28 and 76-31, respectively.

“Job providers and residents alike need energy laws that ensure a reliable system at cost effective rates,” Rich Studley, president and CEO of the Michigan Chamber, said in a statement Thursday. “SB 437 is a fair and balanced compromise that successfully addresses three key issues: sustaining customer choice, implementing meaningful competitive bidding, and improving reliability for all Michigan ratepayers.”

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